Kona International Airport

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Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole
Kahua Mokulele Kauʻāina o Kona
Airport type Public
Operator Hawaii Department of Transportation
Serves Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Location Kalaoa, Hawaii
Hub for
Elevation AMSL 47 ft / 14 m
Coordinates 19°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)
Website hawaii.gov/koa
KOA is located in Hawaii (island)
KOA is located in Hawaii
Direction Length Surface
ft m
17/35 11,000 3,353 Asphalt
Statistics (2014)
Aircraft operations: 129,898
Passengers: 2,807,118
Cargo (U.S. tons): 103,675
Based aircraft: 48

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole[3] (IATA: KOA, ICAO: PHKO, FAA LID: KOA) is on the Island of Hawaiʻi, in Kalaoa CDP, Hawaiʻi County, Hawaiʻi, United States.[4] The airport serves leeward, or Western Hawaiʻi island, including the town of Kailua-Kona and the resorts of the North Kona and South Kohala districts.

It is included in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2017–2021, 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 new 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 had used three million pounds of dynamite to flatten the lava flow (which was riddled with Lava tubes) within 13 months.

In its first full year, 515,378 passengers passed through the new open-air tropical-style terminals. The aquaculture ponds and solar energy experiments at the nearby Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) can be seen during landing and take-off.

It was originally known as Ke-āhole Airport, since the ʻāhole fish (Kuhlia sandvicensis) was found nearby.[7][8]

Runway extension to 11,000 feet was in 1994, making it the largest in the Hawaiian Islands after Honolulu. It became Keāhole-Kona International Airport in 1993;[9] in 1997 it became the Kona International Airport at Keāhole.

On January 1, 2017 the airport was renamed Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole to honor fallen astronaut Ellison Onizuka who was born and raised in Kona.[3]

Japan Airlines' Kona-Tokyo flight that started in 1996 ended in 2010, but was resumed in September 2017, which left the island with only one scheduled international flight (to Vancouver) for a time.[10] Hawaiian Airlines filed an application with the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) for nonstop flights from Kona to Tokyo's Haneda Airport restoring the link between the two cities after Japan Airlines ended flights to Narita Airport in 2010.[11] The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) rejected the airline's application despite support from residents of west Hawaii.[12] On October 23, 2013, Hawaiian Airlines announced that they will re-apply to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) for nonstop Kona-Haneda flights a year after the airline was rejected to fly that route in favor of Delta's Seattle to Haneda nonstop.[13] On July 8, 2016, Hawaiian Airlines announced that they would begin nonstop Kona-Haneda flights on December 20, 2016 after the US Department of Transportation awarded Hawaiian Airlines the route in May.[14]

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]

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.

Kona International is the only remaining major airport in the Hawaiian Islands where a mobile ramp is used to plane and deplane passengers. Kona International sees daily 717, 737, 757, 767, A321, A330[15] and 777 aircraft, as well as smaller inter-island aircraft, and general private aviation. The airport terminal is a rambling, open-air set of structures. Long after other airports in Hawaiʻi converted their terminals to multi-story buildings with automated jetway systems, Hawaiian Airlines could still utilize their DC-9 fleet's tailcone exits at Kailua-Kona.

An environmental impact statement was prepared in 2005 to add a second runway. The United States Air Force investigated building a second 3,950 ft (1,200 m) runway in 2009. This would be used for practicing landing C-17 military cargo planes on a short runway.[16] Although the 11,000 ft (3,353 m) runway allows flights to Japan and Chicago, it is the only major airport in Hawaii with a single runway.

In the year ending May 31, 2007 the airport had 150,624 aircraft operations, an average of 412 per day: 50% general aviation, 22% scheduled commercial, 15% air taxi, and 13% military. 59 aircraft were then based at this airport: 68% single-engine, 14% multi-engine, 14% helicopter, 2% glider and 3% ultralight.[1]

The airport has two gate areas: Terminal 1 has gates 1–5 with Baggage Claim A [17] Terminal 2 has gates 6–10 with Baggage Claim B .

Airlines and destinations[edit]


Air Canada Seasonal: Vancouver (begins December 14, 2018)
Alaska Airlines Oakland, Portland (OR), Sacramento (begins December 20, 2018),[18] San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose (CA), Seattle/Tacoma
Seasonal: Anchorage, Bellingham
American Airlines Los Angeles, Phoenix–Sky Harbor
Seasonal: Dallas/Fort Worth
Delta Air Lines Los Angeles, Seattle/Tacoma
Hawaiian Airlines Honolulu, Kahului, Lihue, Tokyo–Haneda
Seasonal: Los Angeles, Oakland
Japan Airlines Tokyo–Narita
Kona Shuttle Charter: Oakland
Mokulele Airlines Honolulu, Kahului, Kapalua
United Airlines Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco
WestJet Seasonal: Vancouver


Aloha Air Cargo Hilo, Honolulu, Kahului
Kalitta Air Honolulu
UPS Airlines Honolulu, Kahului, Ontario


Top destinations[edit]

Busiest domestic routes from KOA
(February 2017 – January 2018)
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 Honolulu, HI 753,950 Hawaiian, Mokulele
2 Los Angeles, CA 249,930 American, Delta, Hawaiian, United
3 Seattle/Tacoma, WA 154,740 Alaska, Delta
4 Kahului, HI 150,140 Hawaiian, Mokulele
5 San Francisco, CA 121,130 United, Virgin America
6 Phoenix, AZ 52,730 American
7 Oakland, CA 47,330 Alaska, Hawaiian
8 Lihue, HI 32,410 Hawaiian
9 Portland, OR 24,610 Alaska
10 Denver, CO 23,980 United

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.[20]
  • 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. One fatality and one serious injury.[21]

Onizuka Space Center[edit]

A small museum, the Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center, is located between the passenger terminals at the airport.[22] Founded in 1991,[23] the museum is named in honor of Kona-born Ellison Onizuka, who died in 1986 on the Space Shuttle Challenger. The displays include a sample of lunar soil, a space suit from Apollo 13, and personal items from Onizuka. An admission fee is charged.[24] The center closed in March 2016.[25]

Impact of Kona Airport on Hawaii Island[edit]

Prior to the 1970 airport expansion, tourism was centered on Hawaii's East side and the town of Hilo. Tourists to the Kona side of the Island typically flew into Hilo and drove across the island. As recently as 1968 Kona Village Resort didn't have road access let alone a large airport,[26] despite completion of the Royal Kona Resort in 1968.[27]

When the airport opened in 1970, 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.[28]

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 increased to 86% of the total. In 2005 just 4 modest hotels continued to serve the East side of Hawaii, with 3 of them dating back to the 1960s[29]

Tourism has helped fuel Hawaii County's overall population growth. Between 1990 and 2010 the population increased 48%.[30]

Future development[edit]

Kona Airport's master plan, completed in 2010, calls for a second runway while keeping the option to extend the airport's primary runway to 12,000 feet if required. A second-level concourse with jetways would be built to facilitate overseas flights.[31]

Work is in progress to combine the existing terminals into one space as well as adding a second story to the terminals complex. This second terminal will serve overseas and international passengers. When not in international use the new gates, accessed via jet bridge from the second story, will be used for interisland flights. The location of the second story will be on the west side of the current terminal locations, serving to physically connect the two terminals. For this to happen, the Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center will have to be relocated.


  1. ^ a b c FAA Airport Master Record for KOA (Form 5010 PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. Effective May 30, 2015.
  2. ^ Kona Airport – Statistics
  3. ^ a b http://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2017/01/03/kona-international-airport-takes-on-new-name-for.html
  4. ^ "Kalaoa CDP, Hawaii." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on May 21, 2009.
  5. ^ "List of NPIAS Airports" (PDF). FAA.gov. Federal Aviation Administration. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 23 December 2016. 
  6. ^ http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/1997/97_07_25.html 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 master plan official web site
  10. ^ Last JAL Kona-to-Tokyo flight lands on Big Island[1]
  11. ^ https://finance.yahoo.com/news/hawaiian-finishes-application-tokyo-kona-170324789.html;_ylt=A2KLOzH6nWNQ4xEAS_fQtDMD
  12. ^ http://westhawaiitoday.com/sections/news/local-news/dot-rejects-hawaiian-airlines%E2%80%99-request-kona-haneda-service.html
  13. ^ "Hawaiian Airlines applying for flights to Haneda". West Hawaii Today. October 23, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013. 
  14. ^ http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0003066582
  15. ^ Airlines, Hawaiian. "Hawaiian Airlines to Offer Daily Summer Service to Kaua'i from Los Angeles and Oakland". www.prnewswire.com. Retrieved 2016-06-12. 
  16. ^ "Air Force looks to add another runway at Kona airport" in West Hawaii Today, May 16, 2009
  17. ^ kona-airport-terminal-large.gif
  18. ^ http://mauinow.com/2018/06/19/alaska-airlines-announces-new-nonstop-service-between-sacramento-and-kona/
  19. ^ http://www.transtats.bts.gov/airports.asp?pn=1&Airport=KOA&Airport_Name=Kona,%20HI:%20Keahole&carrier=FACTS
  20. ^ http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19770825-0
  21. ^ http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20001213X29401&key=1
  22. ^ Onizuka Space Center official web site
  23. ^ "Celebrating science: Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center observes anniversary". West Hawaii Today. July 20, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  24. ^ Onizuka Space Center Archived April 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. on Hawaii Museum Association web site
  25. ^ Cerball, Alex (December 19, 2015). "Ellison Onizuka space center in Kona airport to close in March". KHON-TV. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  26. ^ Kona Village Resort Archived March 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. on Fodor web site
  27. ^ Royal Kona Resort History on Destination 360 web site
  28. ^ The Great Hilo Tsunami on UC Davis web site
  29. ^ Hawaii Island Strategic Plan for 2006 to 2015 County of Hawaii web site
  30. ^ Hawaii Population Growth Kailua Kona US Census web site
  31. ^ "KOA Airport Master Plan Update (Final), Chapter 5" (PDF). Kona International Airport. October 2010. Retrieved June 28, 2011. 

External links[edit]