Big Win for DZs at Hawaii’s Dillingham Airfield
Photos by Patrick Kessler and Lindsay Wheeler
On April 15, USPA and other general aviation groups won a reprieve for aviation businesses, including two drop zones, at Dillingham Airfield in Waialua, Hawaii. The Hawaii Department of Transportation announced that it is rescinding its decision to terminate its airport lease on June 30, 2020. HDOT now says it intends to end its lease on June 30, 2021, which will provide state legislators the opportunity to form a new airport authority that can take charge of the airport from the DOT.
The U.S. Army, which owns the airport, has leased it to HDOT for years. HDOT, in turn, has allowed general aviation businesses to operate on the airfield. Pacific Skydiving and Skydive Hawaii have operated on the airport for years. The DZs have a high volume of tandem activity and together employ more than 100 individuals, including instructors, packers, riggers, pilots and office staff.
As soon as it heard HDOT’s January announcement of its decision to terminate the lease this June, USPA reached out to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Soaring Society of America, both of which have members that use Dillingham Airfield. A coalition, including local politicians, pilots and skydivers, quickly assembled formed a two-pronged strategy to try to convince Hawaii Governor David Ige and his DOT to postpone the June 2020 date and also convince the Federal Aviation Administration to stand up to HDOT’s lease-termination position. The coalition argued that because the DOT had accepted FAA funds for past improvements at Dillingham Airfield, the DOT could not quit the airfield without FAA agreement. The strategy worked, and HDOT rescinded the June 2020 termination.
Local skydivers were vital in the reprieve. USPA member Ben Divine quickly formed the group Save Dillingham Airfield to take on the fight. He and USPA members Lindsay Wheeler and Janine Bregulla also assisted a USPA video team who went to the airport to capture the sentiments of nearly 70 skydivers and others who work for the two DZs. No other airport on Oahu can accommodate skydiving, and the airport closure would have heavily affected the lives and livelihoods of the DZs’ workers and forced many of them to move back to the mainland.
“We’re pleased that USPA could join others and win a 14-month reprieve for those at the airport,” said USPA Executive Director Ed Scott. “We’ll continue working with all the supporters on getting a permanent solution so that skydiving continues at Dillingham Airfield for decades to come.”
Stay tuned as USPA works to bring this story to life with an in-depth documentary that shares the history and stories of the close-knit community of Dillingham Airport.