Ala Wai Heliport

The Ala Wai Heliport was a State-operated heliport facility located makai of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Lagoon and adjacent to the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.  The heliport consisted of a parking pad, a take off and landing pad, and perimeter fencing.  No overnight parking was permitted; transient parking was limited to 15 minutes for loading and unloading of passengers. No fuel facilities or fueling was permitted at the heliport.

The heliport catered primarily to sightseeing tours for visitors in Waikiki, and golf tours to Makaha. Approach and departures were made seaward over the shoreline.

Governor’s Executive Order No. 1795 signed by the Governor on August 13, 1957 set aside land for the creation of the Ala Wai Boat Harbor under the control and management of the Territorial Board of Harbor Commissioners.

In 1965 Kauai Helicopters approached the now State Department of Transportation Harbors Division about creating a heliport at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor to be used by them for scenic tours. If the Harbors Division would allot a small portion of the parking lot at the harbor, the company would make the improvements. The heliport was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1965.

Kauai Helicopters was issued a revocable permit to operate from the site on June 3, 1965.  They terminated the permit on September 30, 1966.  On September 16, 1966 the Harbors Division inquired if the Airports Division of the HDOT would be interested in operating the facility as there was considerable interest in its use.  The Airports Division agreed to such operation and the heliport was turned over to the Airports Division on November 2, 1966 for operation and maintenance. As part of the take over, the Airports Division repainted the landing pad and replaced parking barriers on the Ewa and Mauka sides of the heliport.

The Ala Wai heliport was maintained by personnel from Honolulu International Airport as necessary. Crash/fire/rescue services were not available nor any facilities for maintenance or fueling of aircraft.

The helipad quickly became popular with film crews from Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum PI, and was used frequently by helicopters taking guests at the local hotels to play golf at the Makaha Golf Course. It was also popular for scenic tours, heavy lifting of construction supplies to Waikiki’s booming hotel construction, emergency support and traffic helicopters.

In 1970, the Airports Division became concerned that pedestrians were crossing directly across the helicopter approach zone and requested the Harbors Division to install additional security fencing.

Act 218, SLH 1973, appropriated $500,000 for the Ala Wai Heliport.  This was the first time there was an appropriation for the facilities and service at Ala Wai Heliport, however there was no personnel position. This was the only time that funds were appropriated by the Legislature specifically for the heliport.

In 1978 The Airports Division established Rules and Regulations Pertaining to the Ala Wai Heliport to provide for the safe, controlled operation of the heliport “which is located within a highly congested area of hotels, parking, beaches, swimmers, surfers, boating and other resort activities.”

The rules set the operating hours of the heliport from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Users could not park on the touchdown area and helicopters could not be left unattended for more than 15 minutes in the parking and service apron area.

By the time the Statewide Heliport Master Plan was prepared for the Ala Wai Heliport in 1990, there was an average of 38 operations per day, or 14,000 per year.  No more than two helicopters could operate at the heliport at any given time.

The Master Plan indicated there were no specific plans for facilities or improvements at the heliport.  However, for the heliport to meet the updated FAA heliport design criteria, some improvements were required.  The plan suggested a small area be set aside for passenger receiving, and suggested that the landing pad be enlarged to meet the FAA design criteria.

Critics of the heliport reported unacceptable noise levels to surrounding residential areas during landings and take-offs and concern for safety due to offshore helicopter crashes.  Noise readings taken at the heliport were within the acceptable noise threshold for minimizing complaints as long as the number of operations didn’t increase.

However bowing to pressure from an elected official, the State finally agreed to close the heliport.  After several court hearings brought by users of the heliport who wished it to remain open, the court eventually ruled that the heliport could be closed.  The State closed the heliport on May 24, 1990, painting out the markings on the asphalt.