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Working Together to Save Skydiving at Dillingham Airfield

By Ed Scott

Gearing Up |
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Since at least 1980 there has been skydiving on Dillingham Airfield on Hawaii’s Oahu Island. The U.S Department of the Army owns the airport, which it has leased to Hawaii’s Department of Transportation since 1961 (making the State of Hawaii the airport operator). In turn, the state has leased space to various general aviation businesses on the airport. Two major drop zones are among those businesses. Both rely on tourism to conduct an estimated 50,000 tandem jumps per year, and they employ more than 100 people—instructors, packers, riggers, pilots, office staff and more—to keep their businesses up and running. Things aren’t perfect. The airport is haphazardly run and the businesses are on short-term leases, which makes it hard to plan. But Dillingham is considered a skydiving paradise by those who work and jump there.

That all changed in late January when HDOT notified all concerned that it intends to prematurely end its current five-year lease with the Army. HDOT ordered all businesses at the airport to shut their doors by June 30, demonstrating a cold indifference to the scores of people whose livelihoods and lives will be upended. There is no alternative, since no other airport on Oahu can accommodate skydiving.

The decision-makers are Hawaii Governor David Ige and his director of the Hawaii DOT, which manages the 14 state-owned airports. After hearing the news, USPA quickly sent urgent letters to the governor and the HDOT director highlighting the number of jobs to be lost and lives affected by the state’s decision. If the state no longer wants to run the airport, surely they could give the local community time to form an airport authority that can take over.

USPA staff also joined a conference call hosted by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which included representatives of the Soaring Society of America, Hawaii’s general aviation community and several supportive Hawaii state legislators. All agreed to work first to get a postponement of the June 30 lease termination date, then work on the formation of a local airport authority that could take over the lease with the Army and run the airport in a way more beneficial to the local businesses and the local community. The Army is said to be willing to lease the airport to another public entity.

USPA has also urged the Federal Aviation Administration to stand firm in requiring the state to meet its FAA obligation to maintain the airport until the 2023 end of its current agreements.

Meanwhile we’ve contacted the 300-plus USPA members who live in Hawaii about writing to the governor. We also plan to use social media to give voice to all Dillingham skydivers and workers about the governor’s indifferent decision to end their jobs and alter their lives with just six months’ notice.

If you don’t live on the island but you’ve jumped at Dillingham or have plans to, you can help your skydiving brothers and sisters. You can contact the governor by email at governor.hawaii.gov/contact-us or by mail to Governor David Inge, Executive Chambers, State Capitol, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813. Let the governor know your future travel plans to Hawaii may be affected.

This is an uphill fight and skydiving has lots at stake, but USPA will do all it can to save Dillingham for skydiving.

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