When Emory Bronte and Ernest Smith made history on July 15, 1927 with the first successful trans-Pacific flight by civilians, there was no airport on Molokai.
They were expected to land at Wheeler Field on Oahu, but ran out of fuel over Molokai and crashed into kiawe trees on the southeast coast of Molokai.
Later that year, the Territorial Governor signed Executive Order No. 307 setting aside an area of 204.8 acres of Territorial land at Ho‘olehua, Molokai; the Territorial Legislature appropriated funds for an airport.
On December 15, 1927, what was then called Ho‘olehua Airport was placed under the control and management of the Territorial Aeronautical Commission. It was effectively a level grassy field that was marked and cleared so that take offs and landings could be made.
It was proposed to eventually fully-improve the field for all commercial and military purposes. The field could be used by the large and heavy trans-Pacific land planes expected to pass through the Territory.
Inter-Island Airways inaugurated interisland air service from Honolulu to Molokai on November 11, 1929 in Sikorsky S-38 amphibians. The fare was $17.50.
By the end of 1929, a small waiting room and telephone booth were added and a pole and windsock were erected. In 1930, it was renamed Molokai Airport.
The Army got interested in the airport in 1931 and by 1937 Molokai Airport consisted of three runways—1,000, 2,600 and 2,600 feet long, 300 feet wide with 100 feet of grading on each side. The Army called it Homestead Field Military Reservation.
Molokai Airport was one of the principal airports of the Territory during the pre-war development of aviation in the Islands. The Army maintained a radio station and Inter-Island Airways, Ltd. had a Station House at the field.
On December 7, 1941 the airport was taken over by the Army and Navy and the services remained in possession until 1947. During this period the U.S. Army made extensive improvements (two paved runways, one 4,400 feet in length and the other 3,200 feet in length, each with a width of 200 feet; taxiways, plane parking areas and runway lighting.
By agreement with the Army, the Territory assumed responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the airport in 1947 under the management of the Hawaii Aeronautics Commission.
In addition to its peace-time function, the airport had continuing importance to the Army and Navy. The extension of the North-South Runway was particularly important because the runway was not adequate for large aircraft except with restricted loading.
Location of this field was such that during heavy rains excess mud and water flowed onto the operating area, sometimes necessitating closing the field until an emergency crew was able to clean up. A system of drainage ditches was designed and completed in September 1953 to alleviate this.
Hawaiian Airlines, Ltd. and Trans-Pacific Airlines, Ltd., provided scheduled service to Molokai, and Andrew Flying Service flew on a non-scheduled basis.
A new Molokai Airport Terminal was officially dedicated on June 15, 1957 with pioneer aviator Emory Bronte in attendance.
In the mid-1970s, there were preliminary planning for moving the site of Molokai Airport. The engineering analysis to be used in the site selection for a new airport for Molokai continued. Construction of new hotel facilities on Molokai accounted for the increase in passengers served at Molokai Airport.
The site study for a new Molokai Airport was completed in 1978 with a recommendation that 500 to 600 acres of land be set aside in the northwest corner of the island.
The report recommended against immediate construction at the new site in view of the high cost for a new airport compared to the relatively low air traffic to Molokai. The estimated cost was $25.8 million in 1978.
The report recommended continued improvements to the existing airport at Hoolehua until such time that traffic warranted the construction of the new airport.
A renovated passenger terminal and support facilities were dedicated on October 19, 1994. The 24,000 square foot terminal had an upgraded passenger waiting area, ticket lobby, air cargo handling facilities and tenant lease area. (Information here is from Hawai‘i DOT Airports.)
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