Kona International Airport

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Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole

Kahua Mokulele Kauʻāina o Kona
Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (46277006881).jpg
Airport typePublic
OwnerState of Hawaii
OperatorHawaii Department of Transportation
ServesKailua-Kona, Hawaii
LocationKalaoa, Hawaii
Hub forMokulele Airlines
Elevation AMSL47 ft / 14 m
Coordinates19°44′20″N 156°02′44″W / 19.73889°N 156.04556°W / 19.73889; -156.04556 (Kona International Airport)Coordinates: 19°44′20″N 156°02′44″W / 19.73889°N 156.04556°W / 19.73889; -156.04556 (Kona International Airport)
KOA is located in Hawaii (island)
KOA is located in Hawaii
Direction Length Surface
ft m
17/35 11,000 3,353 Asphalt
Aircraft operations (2021)87,770
Based aircraft (2022)56
Total Cargo (tons)5,871
Source: Federal Aviation Administration,[1] Department of Transportation Hawaii[2]

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole[3] (IATA: KOA, ICAO: PHKO, FAA LID: KOA) is the busiest airport on the Island of Hawaiʻi. It is located in Kalaoa CDP, Hawaiʻi County, Hawaiʻi, United States,[4] near the town of Kailua-Kona. The airport serves leeward (western) Hawaiʻi island, including the resorts of the North Kona and South Kohala districts. It is one of two international airports serving Hawaiʻi island, the other being Hilo International Airport on the windward side.

It is included in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2021–2025, in which it is categorized as a small-hub primary commercial service facility.[5]



Much of the runway is built on a relatively recent lava flow: the 1801 Huʻehuʻe flow from Hualālai. This flow extended the shoreline out an estimated 1 mi (1.6 km), adding some 4 km2 (1.5 sq mi) of land to the island[6] and creating Keāhole Point. The airport opened on July 1, 1970, with a single 6,500-foot (2.0 km) runway; the previous smaller airstrip was converted into the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area.

Construction crews from Bechtel Corporation used three million pounds of dynamite to flatten the lava tube riddled lava flow within 13 months.

In its first full year, 515,378 passengers passed through the new open-air tropical-style terminals.

The airport has had several names over its lifetime. At the time of its opening, it was named the Ke-āhole Airport, after its geographical location, Keāhole Point, itself named after the ʻāhole fish found in the area.[7][8] In 1993, the airport was renamed Keāhole-Kona International Airport, after the nearby resort town of Kona.[9] In 1997, the Kona name was further emphasized when the airport was renamed the Kona International Airport at Keāhole. On January 8, 2017, the airport was renamed Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole to honor astronaut Ellison Onizuka who was born and raised in Kona and died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.[3]


Prior to the construction of the new airport in 1970, tourism was centered on the town of Hilo on the eastern side of the Big Island. Tourists to Kona and the western side of the island typically flew into the Hilo Airport and had to make nearly two hour drive across the island. The lack of a major airport became especially problematic as large resorts started opening in Kona around 1968.[10][11]

When the airport opened, it helped accelerate a shift of tourism from East Hawaii to West Hawaii. Tourism in Hilo had already taken a hit when a tsunami destroyed all seaside hotels in 1960.[12]

The full extent of the airport's impact and shift in tourism can be seen in Hawaii Island Strategic Plan for 2006 to 2015. By 2005 the percentage of accommodations on the west side of the island increased to 86% of the total. In 2005, just four modest hotels continued to serve the east side of the Big Island, with three of them dating back to the 1960s.[13]

Tourism has helped fuel Hawaii County's overall population growth. Between 1990 and 2010, the population increased 48%.[14]


Aloha Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines were the primary air carriers during the early and mid-1970s for inter-island flights from Honolulu on Oahu, Kahului on Maui and Lihue on Kauai with Aloha operating Boeing 737-200 jets and Hawaiian operating McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jets at this time.[15][16][17] In the late 1970s, Hawaiian operated larger McDonnell Douglas DC-9-50 jets on its inter-island flights.[18]

By early 1985, United Airlines was operating nonstop service into the airport from both Los Angeles and San Francisco with Douglas DC-8-71 and wide-body McDonnell Douglas DC-10 jetliners.[19]

In 1991, a small museum, the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center opened at the airport. The displays included a sample of lunar soil, a spacesuit from Apollo 13, and personal items from Onizuka.[20][21]

In 1994, the airport's runway was extended to 11,000 feet (3,400 m), the second-longest in the Hawaiian Islands after Honolulu. The longer runways enabled much larger aircraft to use the airport, enabling nonstop flights between Kona and Tokyo or destinations in the United States beyond the West Coast hubs.

Japan Airlines (JAL) started a Kona-Tokyo flight in 1996. The route was suspended between 2010 and September 2017 leaving the island with only one scheduled international flight (to Vancouver) for a time.[22] Hawaiian Airlines filed an application with the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) for nonstop flights from Kona to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, to restore the link between the two cities after JAL ended flights to Narita Airport in 2010.[23] The USDOT rejected the airline's application in favor of Delta's Seattle to Haneda flights despite support from residents of west Hawaii.[24] On October 23, 2013, Hawaiian Airlines announced that they would re-apply to the USDOT for nonstop Kona-Haneda flights a year after their application to fly that route was rejected.[25] On July 8, 2016, Hawaiian Airlines announced that nonstop Kona-Haneda flights would begin on December 20, 2016, after the USDOT awarded them the route in May.[26] JAL's resumption of daily Tokyo service in 2017 generated 900 jobs and $8.58 million in tax revenue for the Big Island during its first year, according to the Hawaiian Tourism Authority.[27] Tokyo service on both Hawaiian and JAL was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time a new international arrivals facility was built at Kona; JAL resumed its Narita-Kona route in August 2022.[28]

A modernization project started in March 2017 to combine the airport's two separate terminals into one terminal area. The program allowed the airport to have one, central security screening area and also allowed passengers to use the shopping and dining areas in either terminal. To enable the expansion, the Onizuka Space Center was closed in March 2016, and instead, the airport was renamed after Onizuka in January 2017.

Facilities and aircraft[edit]

The airport's former control tower (demolished in 2014)
Passengers boarding a Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole covers 2,700 acres (1,100 ha) at an elevation of 47 feet (14 m) above mean sea level. It has one asphalt runway, 17/35, 11,000 by 150 feet (3,353 x 46 m).[1][29]

In the year ending November 30, 2021 the airport had 87,770 aircraft operations, an average of 240 per day: 51% general aviation, 30% scheduled commercial, 12% air taxi and 7% military. In March 2022, there were 56 aircraft based at this airport; 26 single-engine, 8 multi-engine, 18 helicopters and 4 ultralights.[1]

Passenger terminal[edit]

The state government of Hawaiʻi facility operates a runway and a terminal complex of single-story buildings along the eastern edge of the airfield for passengers, air cargo and mail, airport support, and general aviation. Airport operations fall under the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation.

The commercial passenger facility is a set of rambling, open-air, tropical-style structures, divided into three terminals: Terminal 1 includes gates 1 through 5, Terminal 2 includes gates 6 through 10, and Terminal 3 hosts smaller commuter flights. Kona International is the only remaining major airport in the Hawaiian Islands where passengers board using mobile stairs or ramps, instead of more modern jet bridges. Despite the less modern facilities, Kona is used by large airliners including the Airbus A321 and A330[30] along with the Boeing 717, 737, 757, 767, and 777.

Airlines and destinations[edit]


Air Canada Vancouver
Alaska Airlines Portland (OR), San Diego, San Jose (CA), Seattle/Tacoma
Seasonal: Anchorage
American Airlines Los Angeles, Phoenix–Sky Harbor
Seasonal: Dallas/Fort Worth
Delta Air Lines Los Angeles, Seattle/Tacoma
Hawaiian Airlines Honolulu, Kahului, Lihue, Los Angeles, Tokyo–Haneda (resumes March 12, 2023)[citation needed]
Japan Airlines Tokyo–Narita (resumes December 21, 2022)
Mokulele Airlines Kahului
Southwest Airlines Honolulu, Kahului, Las Vegas, Oakland, San Jose (CA)
Seasonal: Los Angeles (resumes March 9, 2023)[31]
United Airlines Chicago–O'Hare, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco
WestJet Seasonal: Calgary, Vancouver


Aloha Air Cargo Hilo, Honolulu, Kahului
Amazon Air Riverside[32]
Kalitta Air Los Angeles
UPS Airlines Honolulu, Kahului, Ontario


Passenger numbers[edit]

Annual passenger traffic at KOA airport. See Wikidata query.

Airline market share[edit]

Busiest airlines serving KOA
(September 2021 – August 2022)
Rank Airline Passengers Share
1 Hawaiian Airlines 1,325,000 35.95%
2 Southwest Airlines 683,000 18.53%
3 United Airlines 644,000 17.49%
4 Alaska Airlines 503,000 13.65%
5 American Airlines 286,000 7.77%
6 Other 243,000 6.60%

Top destinations[edit]

Busiest domestic routes from KOA (September 2021 – August 2022)[34]
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 Honolulu, Hawaii 588,310 Hawaiian, Southwest
2 Los Angeles, California 291,490 Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, United
3 Seattle/Tacoma, Washington 181,870 Alaska, Delta
4 San Francisco, California 172,950 United
5 Kahului, Hawaii 154,860 Hawaiian, Mokulele, Southwest
6 Phoenix, Arizona 80,010 American
7 San Jose, California 69,490 Alaska, Southwest
8 Oakland, California 56,330 Southwest
9 Denver, Colorado 50,530 United
10 San Diego, California 49,480 Alaska

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On August 25, 1977, an Air Cargo Hawaii twin-turboprop Short SC.7 Skyvan crashed and burned while attempting to land at Keahole Airport. The pilot and passenger were killed. The crash occurred about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) short of the runway.[35]
  • On September 10, 1989, the pilot of an Aero Commander 680 was making an emergency landing on runway 17 due to loss of power in the right engine. He crashed about 0.25 mi (0.4 km) southwest of the runway, resulting in one fatality and one serious injury.[36]
  • On June 21, 2022, a Rockwell Commander 114 #N4888W suffered a landing gear failure while landing at the airport. As a result the sole runway was blocked for 3 hours, and all inbound flights were directed to OGG or HNL. The lone pilot was not injured.


  1. ^ a b c FAA Airport Form 5010 for KOA PDF. Federal Aviation Administration. effective March 24, 2022.
  2. ^ Annual Air Traffic Statistics
  3. ^ a b "Kona International Airport takes on new name for the new year". Pacific Business News. January 3, 2017. Retrieved October 14, 2020.
  4. ^ "2010 CENSUS - CENSUS BLOCK MAP (INDEX): Kalaoa CDP, HI" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved October 14, 2020. - The airport is on page 3
    2000 map: "CENSUS 2000 BLOCK MAP: KALAOA CDP" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved October 14, 2020. Pages 1 and 2.
  5. ^ "List of NPIAS Airports" (PDF). FAA.gov. Federal Aviation Administration. October 21, 2016. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  6. ^ Fishponds versus lava flows, USGS, 1997
  7. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel Hoyt Elbert and Esther T. Mookini (2004). "lookup of keahole". in Place Names of Hawai'i. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  8. ^ John R. K. Clark (2004). "lookup of keahole". in Hawai'i Place Names: Shores, Beaches, and Surf Sites. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  9. ^ Kona Airport timeline official web site
  10. ^ Kona Village Resort Archived March 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine on Fodor web site
  11. ^ Royal Kona Resort History on Destination 360 web site
  12. ^ The Great Hilo Tsunami on UC Davis web site
  13. ^ Hawaii Island Strategic Plan for 2006 to 2015 County of Hawaii web site
  14. ^ Hawaii Population Growth Kailua Kona US Census web site
  15. ^ http://www.timetableimages.com, Jan. 1, 1971 Aloha Airlines timetable
  16. ^ http://www.timetableimages.com, June 15, 1971 Hawaiian Airlines timetable
  17. ^ April 15, 1975 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Kona flight schedules
  18. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, Nov. 15, 1979 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Kona flight schedules
  19. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, Feb. 15, 1985 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Kona flight schedules
  20. ^ Onizuka Space Center official web site
  21. ^ "Celebrating science: Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center observes anniversary". West Hawaii Today. July 20, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  22. ^ Multiple sources
  23. ^ "Hawaiian Finishes Application". Yahoo Finance.
  24. ^ "DOT Rejects Hawaiian Airlines Request for Kona-Haneda Service". West Hawaii Today. Archived from the original on January 20, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  25. ^ "Hawaiian Airlines applying for flights to Haneda". West Hawaii Today. October 23, 2013. Archived from the original on August 7, 2016. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  26. ^ "The Japan News".
  27. ^ Murar, Katie (September 17, 2018). "Japan Airlines generated $8.6M in Hawaii tax revenues in its first year". www.bizjournals.com. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  28. ^ "New Kona international arrivals facility welcomes back Japanese visitors". Hawai'i Public Radio. August 3, 2022. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  29. ^ "KOA airport data at skyvector.com". skyvector.com. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
  30. ^ Airlines, Hawaiian. "Hawaiian Airlines to Offer Daily Summer Service to Kaua'i from Los Angeles and Oakland". www.prnewswire.com. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  31. ^ "March 2023 Flight Schedule". Southwest.com. September 8, 2022. Archived from the original on September 9, 2022. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
  32. ^ "Amazon Air Expands operations to Kona International Airport". Tribune Herald. August 7, 2020. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  33. ^ "RITA | BTS | Transtats". Transtats.bts.gov. Retrieved August 22, 2022.
  34. ^ "RITA – BTS – Transtats". transtats.bts.gov. Retrieved November 21, 2022.
  35. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident Shorts SC.7 Skyvan 3-200 N4917 Kona-Keahole Airport, HI (KOA)".
  36. ^ "NTSB Identification: LAX89FA307". National Traffic Safety Board. Archived from the original on June 24, 2002. Retrieved September 11, 2022.

External links[edit]

Media related to Kona International Airport at Wikimedia Commons