Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)

A tale of an eviction, Part III

SOMETIMES YOU WONDER who edits articles in the newspaper. Case in point an article in the Sunday Honolulu Star Advertiser on November 24. In the features section, it reported on the arrival of a new company to Hawaii to start charter plane operations between the islands. Aloha Wing Spirit, the name of the company, was reported to bring in a new type of plane, a Honda Jet Elite, to start on demand charter and air ambulance services.

And if the article had just ended with the story of how the company came here, that would have been more than sufficient for the reader. But the last quarter of the article it took a very odd direction. It talked about the Honolulu Community College Air Academy, which was housed out of Hangar 111 at Barbers Point and the fact that there was “interest by a Japanese Aviation Academy to use the facility for a new aviation school.”

What the???

Why is a Japan Air Academy issue being talked about in light of Aloha Wing Sprit? And then why is Tim Sakahara – the spokesperson for the State of Hawaii Dept. of Transportation, saying right at the end of the article “[m]ultiple entities have expressed interest in the Kalaeloa Airport facilities including Wing Spirit, which has announced its intention to operate in Hawaii. However, formal plans and airports are yet to be finalized.”

I was confused. So down the rabbit hole I went to figure out this part of “A tale of an eviction” Part III.

A HondaJet Elite of Aloha Wing Spirit
PC: www.wingspirit.com/#honda-elite

HONDA MAKES JETS , yes, the same Honda company that makes automobiles like the Civic, Accord and legendary Silver and Gold Wing motorcycles. Their development of the small “HondaJet Elite” has been circulating in aviation news for a while. A small jet that can carry up to eight people at jet speeds and heights, at a lower cost is touted as a breakthrough. From corporate entities to air ambulances, the plane is potentially a game changer in the small aircraft category now populated with mostly propeller driven planes.

So it should come as no surprise that as of late, a HondaJet, owned by Honda, has been making the rounds in the islands. When the story was first told to me, I noted that one of the elements of this story had to do with Brad seeing a Honda Jet land at Kapolei Airport. So I inquired on publically accessible flight tracking web pages to find out. Turns out one plane, registered N191WS, has been flying between Kona, Honolulu and Kapolei.

And it would have stopped there except for two things. One:  part of the story Brad (from my interview with him from the museum) told me described a day when the plane, along with a larger corporate jet, landed at Kapolei and taxied to an area near the museum. Men in suits came out of the jets and got into (Brad’s take) “State licensed vehicles”. They drove around the filed as if they were doing a spot inspection.

The route of N191WS from Daniel K. Inouye to Kalaeloa
PC: screenshot from FlightAware, tracking N191WS

Fifteen or so minutes later, Brad said, the cars moseyed up to the planes, out came the passengers going back into the planes, of which they immediately took off.

The second was the confusing article in the Honolulu Advertiser.

ALOHA WING SPIRIT made its appearance in Hawaii around June of 2019. They did not waste time showing they were a good neighbor by helping sponsor events for the United States Conference of Mayors that met in Honolulu. They also brought in planes and started flying them around, including to Kona, Honolulu and, as mentioned before a flight to Kalaeloa.

Their website was full of pretty photos and write-ups of their proposed operations, but nothing of substance related to what their exact plans were. Looking a little more into the companies executive background, there were interesting names showing up. One that caught my attention was Paul Kobayashi Jr., former Vice President/Chief Financial Officer of the University of Hawaii Foundation. Another was Jack Vandelaar, former Manager of International Flight Operations at Hawaiian Airlines.

To me, thinking back on the days when my Pop would work for startup airlines after he retired from Aloha Airlines in 1984, to draw good talent into a new company takes many sweets, and maybe some ego building. To get people like this into Aloha Wing Spirit must have required a lot of money, promises and some of that ego building.

So the company was not going anywhere, it seems. And so I ventured to talk to the company, to see if, indeed, behind the confusing article lay a clue of why the museum was being evicted.

SHANE PETERS IS IN CHARGE OF communications for Aloha Wing Spirit. He gave me a call a day after I called the company and was told the person who was head of communications was no longer there.

If you recognize the name, you should. Shane Peters has been in Communications for a while. From working at Communications Pacific, one of the largest communications firms in Hawaii, to being the communications director of the gubernatorial campaign for former Governor Neil Abercrombie, he was another higher-than-typical profile who now works for the airline.

He currently runs his own communications company, Peters Communications. For the record, the conversation between us was cordial, with Shane providing a clear position on where Aloha Wing Spirit stood.

“There is a conflation on issues,” Shane said early on. Yes, there was a landing of their plane at Kalaeloa and yes, there was a look-around by representatives of the Aviation Academy. But Shane was quite pointed to tell me that while the company might be working with this Japan Aviation Academy, Aloha Wing Spirit was not leading the charge on the establishment of the Academy.

They are, instead, in the business of getting planes on the ground, at Honolulu, and starting charter and air ambulance operations. There might be interest in basing some of the 15 Honda Jets in other airports, but nothing is set in stone.

“It’s not an easy task to start” Shane added, noting that their plans have the operation up and running sometime in the middle of 2020. Being a person that has seen what it takes to get an airline off the ground – shadowing my Pop in his consulting work in the 1980’s – I can appreciate the challenge they have.

Nevertheless, for purposes of this investigation, Shane told me “there are no plans for Kalaeloa” by the company. In fact, Shane told me that Aloha Wing Spirit has talked to Brad about the situation at Kalaeloa. I have reached out to Brad on hearing that Aloha Wing Spirit did talk to him, for comment. No response as of this publication.

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US, the writer (me) and the reader (you) on this matter. Well, it seems that we have established this about the eviction:

  • The State Dept. of Transportation is either unwilling or unable to tell anyone what their plans are for Kalaeloa.
  • That the Neighborhood Board for the area is unaware of what is going on, and is now on alert to get to the bottom of what is happening.
  • A new air charter/ambulance company that is coming to Hawaii is somehow linked up with a entity called the Japan Aviation Academy, but is both not taking the lead in its establishment (but is helping them out) and has declared it is going to operate out of Dan Inouye International and not Kalaeloa.
  • That the State is still moving ahead with the eviction of the Museum, including possible disposal of planes on the tarmac at Kalaeloa. Furthermore, no plans on how they intend to take care of the disposed planes has emerged since discussing the issue in the last article.
  • There are a number of theories that have been presented to me since taking on this investigation, including the idea that Kalaeloa Airport could be converted into a place where a Strategic National Stockpile could be stored.

Wrapping up for this series of articles, one thing I have come to figure is that what is happening is equivalent to movements in chess. A side takes a move (the state), the museum responds. But in this game, there are third players who make moves on the board. And so on, and on.

In addition, everyone seems to be doing this under the guise of silence. Maybe by the nature of the subject we are talking about is just not loud enough to pierce the noise of regular people’s busy lives. However, every action on this eviction, I predict here, will have a magnifying effect on the airport, neighborhood and those who want to protect history. Maybe those actions will move this from background noise to a loud roar.

We will have to see. The story continues as events develop.

A tale of an eviction Part 2

AS A PERSON WHO WORKED IN NEWSPAPERS in the past, I learned that there are, most times, two sides to a story. So when I first got wind of this story, I didn’t want to just be the cheerleader advocating for one side or the other. That is the reader’s job. My job is to try to relay what I found out in talking to all sides.

The impartiality that I strive to achieve in my writing was tested with this investigation. It is not because no one wanted to talk. It is because one side – Brad Hayes and the Museum – has been nothing but generous with their take, while the Department of Transportation will not answer questions that I asked.

LOST
Kalaeloa Airport sign
“LOST” by hawaii is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

THE DEPARTMENT’S ANSWER to four questions I asked of it, regarding the museum and the Departments long-term plans for Kalaeloa Airport was scant at best, insulting to someone who was trying to get to the bottom line, at worst. My first foray into getting at the truth was when I asked Mr. Sakahara Spokesperson for the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation, four questions:

1. In my public records investigation on the matter, I turned up a Development Plan document on the DOT-A website for Kalaeloa Airport. In the plan, attached here it states that the museum was slated to be moved, and not evicted from the property. Could you comment on why the museum is now being evicted instead of, according to this public plan, relocated?

2. Has the development plan been updated? And if so, when was that promulgated and or put out to the public.

3. According to Mr. Hayes, he told me about how the museum was slated for a location that was allocated to someone else (National Guard). After discovering this, was there any effort to provide another location for the Museum?

4. Would the Dept. of Transportation like to elaborate on it’s long-term plans for Kalaeloa Airport?

Mr. Sakahara’s answer, a day or so later:
 
Hello Mr. Fichtman,

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your inquiry. The HDOT Airports Division manages, operates and maintains the airports system in conformity with State and Federal laws, requirements, and rules as well as established policies and procedures to maintain a safe and efficient global air transportation organization.

The Hawaii Museum of Flying (HMF) has had a 30-day Revocable Permit at Kalaeloa Airport since August 2000 to use a 901 square foot building and an area of 1,522 square feet of land. The tenant was provided a letter of revocation and notice to vacate dated Sept. 17, 2019 stating concerns with general liability coverage, compliance with laws, and the considerable unauthorized area being occupied by unpermitted exhibition pieces, which adds up to approximately 173,718 square feet or 3.9 acres.

The HDOT Airports Division and its leadership has repeatedly requested the necessary documentation regarding insurance and fluid spill violations, however the HMF did not furnish the documentation until after the letter of revocation was received. HMF has been provided multiple opportunities to correct the unauthorized use of land outside its permitted area and it has failed to comply. HDOT leadership appreciates the military and its personnel and just like in the military rules and regulations must be followed. The notice to vacate stands, however HDOT has continued a dialogue with the HMF leadership on the matter.

All the best,

Tim

Email response from Tim Sakahara to the Author
PC: Stan Fichtman, Politics Hawaii with Stan Fichtman

First off, he did not answer questions 1-4 with any effort, but decided to go and just make the museum the issue. Secondly, this is the type of answer that someone in the depths of the Attorney General’s office handed to Tim and said, “here, say this”. It was proven that this is the “departments answer to anything related to Kalaeloa and the museum” when, a couple of days later, I got word someone else got a response from Mr. Sakahara on their questions.

Turns out, both letters, addressed to different people, were the same exact letter, word for word.

“THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR came to our meeting to talk about the ‘small house’ development in Kapolei for homeless”, said Jack Legal, the chair of Honolulu Neighborhood Board No. 34, covering Makakilo, Kapolei and Honokai Hale.  When I asked him if anyone from the Department of Transportation, representatives of the Airports Division or any government entity had talked to the board about any activity at Kalaeloa Airport, the answer was surprising.

“No, never came”.

Therefore, it was a surprise to Chair Legal when I spoke to him about what I was finding out about the eviction of the museum and other things. When I asked Chair Legal of his thoughts on not having anything shared with him, he took the words right out of my mind “it’s odd”.  

And the items not being shared with the neighborhood is quite daunting. Along with the eviction, there is also the issue of what happens when you dispose of the planes. When I told Chair Legal about the fact that the State was moving ahead with possible disposal of the planes, his reaction was “where are they going to dispose of the planes, at Waimanalo Gulch?” (Waimanalo Gulch is the landfill site for Oahu, and right up the road from Honokai Hale).

2015 NB 34
Members of the Makakilo Neighborhood Board No. 34, Jack Legal is in the teal shirt behind the lady with the sunglasses.
PC: honolulu.gov, Neighborhood Board website

At the end, Chair Legal had both had enough of not knowing what was going on, but also disturbed that a bonafide government entity like the neighborhood board was not in the loop on anything. “It’s a disservice to the community to bypass the board”, Chair Legal said. He then told me that he would be asking his Vice Chair of Transportation, a board member named Mick Ferreira, to look into the matter and report to the board at its December meeting.

Seems the state is more concerned about putting people into tiny houses than telling the residents they are about to see planes on the back of flatbeds being hauled to the dump.

A DEFINITION OF THE WORD “Monolith” goes like this: “a large and impersonal political, corporate, or social structure regarded as intractably indivisible and uniform.”

Seal of the Hawaii Department of Transportation.svg
The logo of the State of Hawaii Dept. of Transportation. Could be used as the image to describe “monolith”
PC: By Government of Hawaii – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Fry1989 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17207926

As I was going through the interviews and hearing from the different parties in this part of the tale, that word kept on coming up, and growing, as a theme of what the museum was really dealing with. It soon became apparent what Brad and the museum, along with the neighborhood board is dealing with, is tantamount to a quote from the movie “Matilda”, from the book by Roald Dahl.

“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

In other words, the Department of Transportation, Airports Division, is the big person, and everyone else is the little people. And just because they are big and can wield power, their judgement is absolute and unquestionable, on the little people.

So the question need to be asked: What is this entity intending on doing with the planes on the tarmac? If there is a disposal plan, when is that going to be known. And at the end, what is the entity’s overall plan for a public facility like Kalaeloa Airport.

It seems that some answers are out there, one of which we will explore in the next part of this report.

Part III of this tale will talk about how a new jet, developed by Honda, may be the reason why the museum is being evicted.

A tale of an eviction Part 1

Brad Hayes is a person that is about to lose everything for something he loves to do.

I called on him at his home on Wednesday, November 20th, asking him to comment and tell me his side of the story. The story is one you may have heard of – the eviction of the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point by the State of Hawaii Dept. of Transportation, Airports Division.

Naval Air Museum Barbers Point Logo
PC: NAMBP Facebook page

It had already made the news, and for the most part it sounded like a tale of a museum, due to issues between it and the Airports Division, received an eviction notice to leave the premises. Brad was already working from home trying to figure out what to do with all of the vintage planes on the tarmac, still at John Rodgers Field (the official name of Kalaeloa Airport, former Barbers Point Airfield), and trying to figure out how to counter the eviction notice.

None of this was good for a person who has prior health issues, adding a strain to his heart with the possible obliteration of something he put his whole life into.

You could tell that just in his voice.

THE MUSEUM has been out at the tarmac of John Rodgers Field for about 20 years. At first it was a labor of love to keep planes, abandoned by the Navy when they left Barbers Point in July 1999, in display shape. According to reports, Brad and his partners took these planes, put them on display and started a nonprofit to start and build a museum dedicated to displaying airplanes that flew from the base.

Military aircraft, like this Douglas A-4 Skyhawk are part of the museums static displays
A4″ by justinls is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Brad eventually became the Director of what is now the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point (NAMBP).

The mission of the museum soon emerged from this labor of love: to preserve the past and teach the history of this special geographical area. To that end, they collected more aircraft and items that have a connection to the Naval Air Station, Marine Corps Air Station and Coast Guard Air Station at Barbers Point.

With this, more donated planes that had a touch with the area flew in. Eventually it would have a collection as diverse as a DC-8-62 passenger plane from Air Transport International to P-3 A’s and C’s which flew out of the base on patrols.

If you go out there and look at the collection, you would swear it modeled just like Jay Leno’s Garage. Just like how Jay knows the background of every car he has, Brad and his crew can tell you all about the stories of the individual planes on the tarmac.

In many cases, they are fascinating tales.

Despite the fact that the museum was not on the tour bus routes, which bring tourists to other museums like the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum at Ford Island (its mission is different and therefore not compatible for a partnership), it continued to plod along, with donations from veterans and the goodwill of the Airports Division.

And all seemed to be okay, until recently.

WHEN YOU HEAR THE STORY from Brad, you hear a story of a museum that never knew what the Airports Division wanted to do with them. For years they have worked off a month-to-month lease.

Wide view shot of Kalaeloa Field, with the museum’s footprint circled
PC: Google Maps with modifications
The museum and it’s static pieces, zoomed in from the circled area
PC: Google Maps with modifications

Meanwhile, on other parts of the tarmac, the Airports Division would at times allow those who wanted to make part of the field into a Grand Prix type course to promote the ideas, only to have it die on the vine. The museum even went in on its own dime to clear out the barricades the Grand Prix organizers abandoned, with their own forklift, in order to make the field usable again for aircraft movements.

This arrangement seemed counter to what the Airports Division are telling the public, that they were going to move the museum to a more permanent spot at a future date. One can surmise that the lease arrangement was done as a stop-gap until negotiations concluded and the move occurred.

But from Brad’s perspective, there was only one episode where the Airports Division addressed the move. That was when they and museum representatives went to an area that was slated for use instead by the Hawaii Army National Guard (HI ARNG) for its maintenance base. How both entities could occupy the same space, according to Brad, was never addressed.

So then, things, it seems, went into limbo. The maintenance facility was built and now is in use by the HI ARNG. The assumption that the museum would still be moved, someday, with a long-term lease attached.

But then nothing more was said.

CITING LACK OF INSURANCE and environmental violations, a letter arrived on September 17th telling the museum that the lease was being cancelled, and they are to be evicted. Even with a meeting at the Dept. of Transportation on November 12th, the order stood for the museum to get out.

Documents presented by the Museum to the Airports Division at it’s Nov. 12 Meeting
PC: Naval Air Museum Barbers Point Facebook Page

Furthermore, according to reports and Brad, the Airports Division added that if the planes were not taken off the lot, that they would move ahead to dispose of them. Just in the last couple of days, the State Procurement Office started sending out documents to effectuate that.

From Brad’s point of view, the violations that the Airports Division cited the museum over were either remedied, or addressed when they first came up. In the case of the museum’s insurance, the Airports Division cited they didn’t file the insurance with the Division. However, from Brad, he shows me that his partners transmitted the documents even before the eviction notice was sent.

“They said they misplaced the documents”, Brad told me.

Brad Hayes, Naval Air Museum Barbers Point Director
PC: HawaiiNewsNow, 2015

ONE THING IS FOR SURE from Brad’s take is that something is afoot, and that the Airports Division is not saying exactly what it has in mind. According to Brad, the plan that is currently on its website, citing that the museum would be moved, is from 2012 or 2013. As far as Brad knows, it has not been updated.

Since the notice of eviction was affirmed in November. Brad and his supporters have been on the move. From setting up a GoFundMe page to solicit money for lawyers to fight the eviction, to letters being sent to lawmakers both in Hawaii and Washington D.C., Brad is not going to give up, not without a fight.

Along with this, a growing list of publications have been coming out with articles describing the situation. This amplification of the clarion call first put out by Brad has reached many parts of the continent, and individuals who represent Hawaii in Congress. The final story of whether any of this will help change the outcome, remains to be written.

Meanwhile Brad continues to put the word out, responding to inquiries about this situation (he has been quite cooperative on answering questions for this report) and fighting the battle. He may very well lose everything at the end of this war. But as a warrior, he is not going down without a fight.

Stay tuned for Part II of “A Tale of an Eviction” where we examine the Dept. of Transportation’s position, and behaviour

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