East Hawaii News

VIDEO: Gabbard Pushes for Return of Customs Facility in Kona

February 26, 2014, 2:26 PM HST
* Updated February 27, 8:47 AM
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US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard today asked the head of Homeland Security to help resolve issues preventing Kona International Airport from accepting international flights.

Gabbard told Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that she was making the request, which came during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, from both an economic and security perspective.

She said restoring customs operations that were halted in 2012 at the Kona airport would not only provide an economic boost but would also provide a back-up destination if international flights were unable to land at Honolulu International Airport.

“You make a good point that if you lose one, you don’t have a second,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he has also experienced the inconvenience of having to first fly to Honolulu and then change planes to travel to Kona.

Gabbard noted that the Customs and Border Patrol had deemed the customs facilities lacking in 2012, and attempts by airport staff and the private sector to obtain a five-year exemption while the facilities are brought up to speed have so far been unsuccessful.

Johnson said he would be willing to work toward re-establishing international arrivals in Kona as long as there is no compromise of aviation or border patrol security.

Johnson began his response to Gabbard by commenting that he considered a visit to Kona as “probably the most pleasant airport experience I’ve had in a very long time.”

Gabbard also sought help from Johnson for an exemption for Hawaii and Alaska from the increase in the Aviation Passenger Security Fee included in the budget passed in December.

“I’m going to be an advocate here for the two noncontiguous states, Hawai‘i and Alaska, where air travel is essentially our only option,” Gabbard said. “This is not an area that is a luxury, but one that is essential for business, for health care, for education, and I look forward to working with you on seeing how we can – as has been done in the past – make sure that these two states are considered differently.”

Johnson said he would study that matter further.

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