“Pilots seldom forget interesting landing approaches.”
“Ask a former Royal Hawaiian pilot what his favorite airport was, and chances are he’ll say Kāʻanapali. For one thing, the field was short for a Cessna 402 – about 2,700 feet; short runways tend to decrease enthusiasm.”
“Secondly, there was the positioning of the field. Its asphalt runway began just beyond Kāʻanapali Beach and cut a narrow swath through high green cane fields.”
“No fence of substance separated runway from beach and there were times on short final when every pilot pulled her up just a tad for fear of giving some unsuspecting beachcomber a crewcut.” (Forman)
Kāʻanapali was the terminus for the sugar plantation railroad; a landing on the northerly side of Puʻu Kekaʻa (Black Rock) with a wharf and off-shore moorings served as the primary loading spot for shipping processed sugar from the island and bringing in supplies for the plantation camps.
After the sugar industry’s peak in 1930, production, acreage in sugar and profits declined. Seeing hard times ahead, in the early-1960s Amfac took 1,200-acres of Pioneer Mill Company land out of cane to develop as a visitor resort destination (in 1999, Pioneer Mill closed its sugar operations.)
The land set-aside by Amfac became Hawaiʻi’s first master-planned resort. To transport workers and materials for the new development, an old coastal road was converted into a runway – this served as the foundation for Kāʻanapali Airport.
The Airport’s runway (01-19) started just 30-feet from the shoreline and extended north a short 2,615-feet. The terminal building had a lounge on the second floor known as the Windsock. (Up the winding staircase, the bar was run by ‘High School Harry’ Givens; business cards from around the world lined the walls.)
The Kāʻanapali airstrip was built by Amfac, Inc. at a cost of $40,000 to provide direct access to the developing resort area of Kāʻanapali. The Resort opened in 1961.
First the Royal Lāhainā, then the Sheraton opened at the Kāʻanapali Beach Resort. The airport was then used to bring guests in/out. Before a flight, the pilot would walk into the terminal and call out the passengers by name.
The Airport was used exclusively by the commuter aircraft of Royal Hawaiian Air Service (RHAS,) initially using Cessna 402 aircraft.
The strip, operated under a lease agreement, carried about 10,000 people in and out of Kāʻanapali a month by 1980 (passenger load peaked in 1983 with over 131,000 going in/out of Kāʻanapali that year.) 80,000-100,000 pounds of cargo was brought in monthly.
Amfac announced that it would close the airstrip on September 15, 1982 “as a necessary step in the planned development and viability of our Maui property and sugar interests.”
Amfac made that decision after learning that Hawaiian Airlines planned to build an airport in West Maui. The airport was closed on January 25, 1986.
In 1987, Hawaiian Airlines built the nearby Kapalua Airport; the State took over that facility in 1993.
Kahekili Beach Park now sits on the former Kāʻanapali Airport site.
In 2010, former pilots, RHAS employees and passengers gathered at the park to dedicate a plaque and reminisce about the oceanfront airport.
“Fresh tradewinds often challenged flight operations. It was exciting to arrive and depart at this short airstrip,” the monument’s plaque notes. “Safety concerns eventually restricted access to only one operator: Royal Hawaiian Air Service (RHAS).”
Today, along its 3-mile coastline, Kāʻanapali Beach Resort is a self-contained resort with over 5,000 hotel rooms, condominium suites, timeshares and villas; 2-championship golf courses (in 1962, Bing Crosby took the inaugural shot on the Royal Kāʻanapali Course) and 35-tennis courts. It accommodates over half-a-million visitors each year.