Kona travelers miss work, doctor appointments due to closed airport runway

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Paving on runway at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport on Feb. 13, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Hawai‘i Department of Transportation)

Debby Ciambrone’s husband had a business meeting on O‘ahu today and was expected to fly out of Kona at 7 a.m. But he didn’t make it.

After dropping him off at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole for his Hawaiian flight Ciambrone quickly learned the trip was delayed.

At around 6:15 a.m., Hawai‘i Department of Transportation announced the airport’s sole runway was closed due to delays in repairing cracks where aircraft perform turnaround motions.

The airport was forced to shut down last month when different cracks were discovered in the asphalt on Jan. 16.

The repairs to pave over the damage were scheduled for 15 consecutive nights. Monday was the first in these overnight repairs, however shuttle buggy that transfers paving material broke down causing the airport’s closure, according to the state.


The contractor, Jas W. Glover, brought in additional equipment to finish the job, however, asphalt onsite had cooled and couldn’t be used. The contractor had to produce more material at its Waimea plant and trucked it to the airport.

“We are working with the contractor to have redundancies in place that will avoid delays in reopening the runway daily,” state officials said.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole posted departures on Feb. 13 as on time despite delays due to the closed runway. (Submitted photo)

While waiting for the asphalt to arrive, frustration and confusion mounted among travelers as screens announcing departures at the airport showed every flight as “on time,” while the state announced throughout the morning delays and when the runway was expected to reopen.

Initially, it was 9 a.m., then again at noon. It was pushed back to 1 p.m. and then officially reopened at 1:50 p.m.

While the state pushed travelers to speak to their airline for updates, Captain Cook resident Matt – who chose not to give his last name – said Southwest was telling customers there was a runway issue and the airline had no control over it.


“[I’m] hearing stories from people missing funerals and surgeries,” Matt said.”[I’m] hearing of airlines canceling flights to save money. Someone needs to be held responsible.”

The Blood Bank of Hawai‘i was scheduled to start a blood drive in Kona today but was forced to limit the donations it accepted due to a lack of staff unable to fly in from O‘ahu to help with the event.

The blood bank is currently at a half-day supply of O-positive and O-negative blood statewide. To help boost the local supply, the blood bank is accepting walk-ins at Young Street Donor Center and Waikele Center on O‘ahu today.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no concerns about stocking Kona Community Hospital with blood as the blood bank worked with Hawaiian Airlines to ensure they received adequate supply.

With her husband missing a full day of work, Waikōloa resident Ciambrone was concerned that her United flight to Santa Barbara Tuesday night would also be canceled.


The state instructed travelers to contact their airline about their flights. Ciambrone explained that was a futile effort. When she called United to find out what her options were to ensure she kept her California flight, she said customer service agents didn’t know the airport was closed and they were still showing flights on time.

“It’s very frustrating. It feels like there’s no consideration of passengers or helping the passengers,” Ciambrone said. “The airlines have no idea what’s going on.”

Airlines at the Kona airport say they have been monitoring the situation. Alaska Airlines reported it had one delay, and one diversion to Honolulu.

Southwest Airlines stated it is coordinating with airports on planned and unplanned operational items.

“We had this one at Keahole on our radar for overnight and today, though HDOT is keeping us consistently updated as it’s taking a bit longer than forecast for them to wrap up things,” Southwest officials stated. “So, we’re adjusting in the work to serve our customers.”

Hawaiian Airlines stated the extended Kona airport repair work resulted in several flight delays and some cancelations.

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 [email protected].
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