Third crack found on Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport runway to be repaired overnight

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A crack in Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport’s sole runway that forced the closure of the facility Monday was first identified at 8 a.m.

Measuring 8 inches long by 2 inches wide, staff watched it throughout the day and noticed little change, however, by 2:30 p.m. the small crack had turned into a 3-foot hole, said Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen during a press conference Tuesday.

“Closing a runway, especially one like Kona airport is a tremendous decision,” Sniffen said. “We understand the impact it’s going to have on travel, on the passengers, on partner airlines and our cargo partners.”

Between the accelerated degradation and the potential for further damage in other parts of the runway, Sniffen said, the decision was made to close the runway at 4:20 p.m., resulting in 26 flights — 17 interisland and nine transpacific — being disrupted.

Approximately 160 passengers were put up in hotels.

The 11,000-foot-long runway, smack in the middle of an old lava field in North Kona, was paved 30 years ago.


Sniffen attributed the damage to weather. He said: “We found layers of water that helped cause that sheering.”

Sniffen said contractors from off-island were brought in to repair the runway. They flew into Hilo and they drove to Kona. The crews had to pick up a mill, a piece of equipment used to cut asphalt, in Kohala.

The contractor started working at 9 p.m.

Crews repaired a 10-foot-by-20-foot crack in the runway and identified another portion early Tuesday morning, 3 feet by 10 feet that was also repaired. A third crack was discovered and crews will repair it Tuesday night between midnight to 3 a.m.

“This (crack repairs) comes right on the verge of us pushing out our $120 million construction project,” Sniffen said, adding the state will be repaving Kona airport’s 11,000-foot-long runway.


The project is slated to begin around August or September.

“The timing is unfortunate but we’re happy we made the decision to fix it rather than pushing this to potential safety issues for our airlines,” Sniffen said.

Sniffen said the state could push to start the work at Kona airport before summer.

“But if we do that, we’ll be interrupting that summer peak to that area,” Sniffen said. “After this repair, we’re comfortable we have a pavement that will last us through the construction period.”

During the Tuesday press conference, Gov. Josh Green said he was inundated with phone calls Monday afternoon from people who were on planes who heard there was a problem with the runway.


Green was bracing himself as he was unsure how long it would take to repair the runway and “how we’d explain it to the world.”

He was pleased that the issue was fixed overnight.

“We can never take any risks in this space,” Green said. “But had the defect occurred a few thousand feet down the way, we probably wouldn’t have had any delays. We probably could have quietly done the project over the course of a few days and just routed people to the other length of that runway.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will be coming to the state next month where he will look at Hawai‘i’s infrastructure, including the Kona airport.

“We will be making our case to him, through our directors mostly, about how the federal government can support Hawaii going forward,” Green said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at
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