VIDEO: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Calls on Homeland Security Secretary Johnson to Resolve Kona International Airport Customs Issue, Air Travel Fee Increases

February 26, 2014
Press Release

Washington, DC – In a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee today, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to work with local and state officials in Hawai‘i to resolve Customs and Border Patrol issues that are preventing Kona International Airport from accepting international flights. She also reiterated her serious concerns about the recent airline fee increase, and its impact on Hawai‘i travelers.

“Kona was able to accept flights and we had Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) operating from there up until [2012],” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I think our folks on the ground have been really proactive in trying to make sure that we’re able to meet CBP standards, and are requesting a five-year exemption so that we can continue to operate as we were up until [2012], which is important from an economic perspective, but also from a security perspective. If anything were to happen at the Honolulu International Airport, that we have another gateway and we have another facility there.”

“I know the burden of being on a multi-hour flight to Honolulu, and then you’ve got to change planes and fly to Kona,” said Secretary Johnson in response. “I know the inconvenience of that. So I’d like to see us work with local airport officials to try to get a place where you can have an international arrivals capability. You make a good point that if you lose one, you don’t have a second. So I’d like to see us try to work together on that.”

The congresswoman also highlighted the unique transportation challenges that face residents and visitors in Hawai‘i, and the need to exempt the state from the recently passed fee increases for airline travelers:

“With the budget that was passed recently, some of these fees that directly impact airline travel were increased in part to help pay for CBP, to help pay for TSA. I’m going to be an advocate here for the two noncontiguous states, Hawai‘i and Alaska, where air travel is essentially our only option. This is not an area that it’s a luxury, but one that is essential for business, for health care, for education, and I look forward to working with you on seeing how we can – as has been done in the past – make sure that these two states are considered differently.”

 

Video of the Congresswoman’s Q&A with Secretary Johnson is available here, and a full transcript is below:

House Homeland Security Committee

Hearing: “The Secretary's Vision for the Future”

February 26, 2014

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02): Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Welcome and aloha Secretary, great to have you here with us. You’ve touched on a lot of different topics today that I look forward to being able to address that really impact us nationally, from cyber threats to domestic drone use, and the policies that we need to come up with as we look at this new technology, a duplication of resources, aging Coast Guard fleet, and so on and so forth.

I also want to welcome you to come and visit Hawai‘i. I know you’ve been there before, but to come in this capacity. Because there’s nothing like seeing first-hand the challenges as well as the opportunities that we have that are unique from the rest of the country – from the District 14 Coast Guard which covers by far the largest sector of any district that the Coast Guard has responsibility over, and the unique implications of what they do on the international front: engagement, diplomacy, the exclusive economic zones that they patrol. It’s really quite impactful what they’re responsible for, and how they have done so well with such little resources.

Also, just to touch on, the portal that exists in our state, both the air portal, the international port[al], really being the gateway between Asia and the United States, as well as the maritime ports. Since 1996, we’ve had two international airports in the state of Hawai‘i; the primary, which is the Honolulu International Airport, and the Kona International Airport. Kona was able to accept flights and we had Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) operating from there up until [2012]. And this is a situation I know that you are familiar with and that we’re trying to remedy. The CBP had stated basically that the facilities at the Kona Airport were insufficient in [2012]. The airport facility staff sought feedback from CBP in 2012. [They] were given a book of regulations – 295 pages that was dated in 2006 – [and] told to look through it and update the facility. The following year, they were given [a book] updated in 2011, and said, “Oh, well this is the updated version.”

I think our folks on the ground have been really proactive in trying to make sure that we’re able to meet CBP standards, and are requesting a five-year exemption so that we can continue to operate as we were up until [2012], which is important from an economic perspective, but also from a security perspective. If anything were to happen at the Honolulu International Airport, that we have another gateway and we have another facility there. So if one of you can comment on the status of that request that’s supported by the mayor on the ground, as well as by the governor.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson: I have your letter in this regard. I will probably get myself into trouble by saying that I’ve been to Kona Airport and it is probably the most pleasant airport experience I’ve had in a very long time. I also recall when you could fly from Kona to the mainland in the early 90s, and I’m not sure you can do that anymore.

Congresswoman Gabbard:  You can.

Secretary Johnson: And I know the burden of being on a multi-hour flight to Honolulu, and then you’ve got to change planes and fly to Kona. I know the inconvenience of that. So I’d like to see us work with local airport officials to try to get to a place where you can have an international arrivals capability. You make a good point that if you lose one, you don’t have a second. So I’d like to see us try to work together on that. I do believe, however, that we can’t do something that’s going to potentially compromise aviation security, border patrol security. So I’m personally familiar with the Kona Airport, happy to try to work with your constituents, representatives, local officials in this regard to get there with the concern for security.

Congresswoman Gabbard: Thank you, I appreciate being able to work with you on that. Understand that the private sector is also very much invested in helping to bring this about. [An application] for reimbursable agreement was denied by CBP, and [we] hope to become one of the other cities that will be approved at some point in the future.

I want to touch quickly on airline fees. With the budget that was passed recently, some of these fees that directly impact airline travel were increased in part to help pay for CBP, to help pay for TSA. I’m going to be an advocate here for the two noncontiguous states, Hawai‘i and Alaska, where air travel is essentially our only option. This is not an area that is a luxury, but one that is essential for business, for health care, for education, and I look forward to working with you on seeing how we can – as has been done in the past – make sure that these two states are considered differently.

Secretary Johnson: I have your bill in this regard. I’ve read your bill and I’m interested in studying it further.

Congresswoman Gabbard: Thank you very much. Thank you Mr. Chairman.

###

Office Locations