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Naval Air Museum Barbers Point's vintage aircraft may face the chopping block

In a Jan. 19, 2019 photo, children play on a WW2-era jeep during a community engagement event hosted by the Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's Maritime Raid Force at Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, Kapolei, Hawaii.

ISAAC CANTRELL/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: October 26, 2020

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — A Kalaeloa Airport naval air museum whose vintage aircraft could be auctioned off or chopped up is scrambling to remove some of its collection ahead of the Saturday deadline to vacate the premises.

The departure of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point is the end result of a long­running dispute with the state Department of Transportation over lease terms at the airport and a failed lawsuit brought by the museum to stay.

The grassroots air museum has been closed since November by a state eviction effort.

Among the museum's collection are a lot of big, heavy and not very mobile pieces, including a DC-8 passenger jet, a Coast Guard C-130H Hercules, two Navy P-3 Orion sub hunters, three A-4 Skyhawks, an F-4 Phantom and multiple Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and military vehicles, including 60-ton M-60 Patton tanks.

DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said the museum "is required to remove all of its belongings from the premises. The Airports Division will take additional actions if aircraft and equipment is left behind."

Months ago a Hawaiian Airlines 717 jet not part of the museum was cut up nearby using an excavator with a cutting claw. For airplane buffs, "it was just kind of disheartening " to see, said Rob Moore, a pilot and former president of the General Aviation Council of Hawaii.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum accepted an A-4 Skyhawk that was in the Kalaeloa collection that was at Naval Air Station Barbers Point when it was shuttered in 1999. The Pearl Harbor museum also wants to save a unique World War II two-man portable concrete bunker.

But some of the bigger planes, like the P-3s, which have had a long history on Oahu, "they'll cut them up, " said Brad Hayes, executive director of the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point.

Hayes said. "The big airplanes we can't take anywhere."

That job will be left to the state, Hayes said. The nonprofit museum operated on a shoestring and can't afford to dispose of them.

"We technically are the ones supposed to scrap (them, but ) we're not going to raise money to go scrap airplanes, " Hayes said.

A Coast Guard C-130 may be auctioned off, he said. A Cobra attack helicopter and a Vietnam veteran Huey transport with bullet patches from the war have been moved off-site, along with an M-60 tank.

Hayes said he is "completely frazzled " trying to save what he can from the museum collection, and "right up to the last second, I'll try my best."

Million Air wants in Meanwhile, a mainland aircraft services company known for building luxury facilities has plans to use 180, 774 square feet of space in the same area as the museum to build a "fixed based operator " business and a fuel facility.

The ambiguous plan by Houston-based Million Air to build what's known as an FBO and fuel facility at Kalaeloa has led to questions about its business plan, and concern by the local operator of the single FBO doing business there now that he'll be displaced by the much bigger operation.

The space where Million Air is proposing to move in is where the aviation museum was and now has to vacate.

Million Air's operation would also be next to Barbers Point Aviation Services, which sells jet fuel and has been run by Reggie Perry since 2010-11.

"The moneymaker is jet fuel, and it's the big jets drinking it, " said Hayes.

That means military jets—which use the former Naval Air Station Barbers Point, now Kalaeloa Airport, as an overflow landing site.

The Honolulu airport handles the vast majority of military arrivals, but the airport and next-door Hickam Field can get full, Perry said.

Kalaeloa handles excess military traffic.

Perry said, "I make my money ... on the government contract."

The reason Million Air wants to move in "is only for the government contracts. I will tell you that unequivocally, " Perry said. "They are a government contract solicitor wherever there is a government contract. This is a big company."

Others cite luxury jet traffic for stays at Ko Olina properties as a reason for Million Air's interest.

The military contract is up in 20 months, and "Million Air is trying to establish a presence right now so they can build their hangar and they can bid the contract, " Perry said.

Perry, who normally employs about 40 people at the airport in non-COVID-19 times, said he had plans to build a hangar for pilot and crew needs, among other services. Million Air offered to buy him out, he said, but that deal fell through as a result of state foot-dragging.

"My deal didn't go through because the state wasn't giving us answers that we needed to keep Million Air in the game, " Perry said. "So Million Air was fed up and thought it was me that was holding them back. And that's why they decided to do it on their own."

The state DOT said Million Air is in the process of obtaining a lease at Kalaeloa for a fuel facility. The airports division will award the FBO by public auction, "which will allow all interested bidders the opportunity to bid on a site to develop and construct an FBO hangar facility, " the Transportation Department said.

Initial rent is set at a minimum of $211, 000 annually for the FBO land use. The applicant will have to invest at least $4 million to build a hangar.

Million Air did not respond to a request for comment. The company circulated a planning document saying it was seeking an environmental assessment exemption for the FBO and fuel facility.

Pandemic problems Perry said that in pre-coronavirus times he was pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel per month. But after the pandemic began he was at about only 21, 000 gallons, he said.

"Nobody is coming in, " he said. "The corporate planes aren't coming in. The military is not coming in. Even general aviation is not flying as much."

He added that he's "losing money waiting for the recovery to happen."

But, he said, the airport "is a diamond in the rough. It can service every airplane because it's got a long runway."

Perry said before he began trucking fuel from near the Honolulu airport to Kalaeloa—there are no fuel lines to the smaller airport—overflow Air Force jets such as C-130s, C-5s and C-17s would sometimes have to land at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay or on Kauai or Maui.

"I facilitated everything to turn this airport around when nobody wanted it, because there was no gas, " he said. He added that "this airport cannot sustain two FBOs. It cannot."

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