Welcome to Hilo International Airport

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 at Hilo International Airport

Welcome to Hilo International Airport

This is the first in a series of posts that will come from photo groups, sets and streams that mainly come from my Flickr.com photos and YouTube videos.

This post focuses on Hilo International Airport. It is one of the bigger but most underutilized airports in the State of Hawaii. Hilo International Airport (ITO / PHTO) serves the community and county seat of Hilo Hawaii which includes most of the eastern and southern part of the island. The Big Island has a population of about 185,000 people. I would say about half the population at least lives on the eastern side.

Hilo International Airport is one of two major airports on the Big Island. The other is Kona International. Hilo International airport has 2 runways, with 8/26 being the longest at 9.800 feet. That runway is used for nearly all flight operations and can accommodate aircraft as large as the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The second, crosswind runway is 3/21 at 5,600 feet long. That is used mainly for general aviation, though in a pinch it can handle some of the smaller jets that come into Hilo.

Hilo International Airport has a main passenger terminal building complete with jetways that can accommodate up to 8 aircraft at its main gates. There is room on the tarmac to park a few more planes using old fashioned stairways.

The main passenger terminal area has two security check areas, though only one is usually used. Inside there are ticketing counters, baggage handling facilities, a restaurant, bar, snack and souvenir shops plus a lounge for Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club passengers. The main waiting area is beautifully done with nice, living room type chairs and sofas, not what you’d get at most airports. It makes waiting for your flight rather pleasant.

One of the main criticisms from the time the passenger terminal opened is that from most areas of the facility, people cannot see the aircraft. There is no view of incoming or outgoing aircraft from the first floor lounge. It is only when passengers are allowed to the second floor gate area is where aircraft can be viewed.

Hilo International Airport
The comfy living room type furniture is popular feature at Hilo’s airport.

Hilo International Airport
The second floor leads to and from the 8 gates at the airport. It is only from this level that passenger can actually see arriving and departing aircraft.

Airlines currently serving Hilo International Airport include

Hawaiian Airlines – inter-island flights
Mesa Airlines dba Go! Mokulele – inter-island flights
United Airlines / Continental – direct jet service to LAX and SFO.

In addition to passenger service, Hilo International Airport is also used for helicopter air tour services (popular for viewing the volcano eruptions), the military, freight operations, charters and general aviation. A new freight terminal is under construction near the U.S. Post Office building not too far away from the passenger terminal. Carriers offering freight service to and from Hilo include Fed Ex (they bring in their McDonnell Douglas MD-11 aircraft) and Aloha Air Cargo (using Boeing 737-200s). Other smaller carriers such as Trans Air also service Hilo.

Interisland Airways
Interisland Airways Shorts 360 charter airplane parked at Hilo.


Hilo International Airport began in 1927 and was known as General Lyman Field for many years. The airport was first serviced by a commercial air carrier in 1929. Inter-island Airways flew their Sikorsky amphibious airplanes into Hilo from Honolulu and Maui. That airline eventually became Hawaiian Airlines.

Through the years the airport was expanded and reached its zenith in the late 1960s and 1970s when Hilo served as the “second gateway” to the State of Hawaii with direct mainland flights. The first mainland to Hilo flights started in 1967 with the arrival of Pan American and United Airlines. Shortly after that Braniff, Northwest Orient Airlines, Western Airlines, and Continental Airlines served Hilo.

The service was successful for a few years until airline deregulation set in the late 1970s. After that mainland and overseas carriers saw more profitability by sending direct flights to Hawaii’s other airports in Kona, Maui and Kauai. The last airline to offer direct Hilo to Mainland flights until United’s re-emergence to the market in June 2011 was American Trans Air (ATA). Their service stopped after ATA went bankrupt in 2008.

In addition to mainland flights, Hilo has always been the eastern most destination for most inter-island air carriers. Among the airlines that have come and gone from the Hilo marketplace are the following:

Island Air: still in business, service withdrawn
Pacific Wings: Still in business, service withdrawn

Mokulele Airlines: Merged with Mesa Go! Airlines.
Aloha Airlines: Late 1940s to 2008 (bankruptcy)
Mid Pacific Airlines: went out of business in Hawaii – 1988.
Mahalo Airlines: went bankrupt in 1997.
Royal Hawaiian Air Service: went out of business (1980s).
Discovery Airways: Intended to fly BAC-146 jets to Hilo; liquidated; issue regarding ownership (1990).

More history regarding Hilo International Airport can be found at this link:

HAWAII AVIATION: General Lyman Field / Hilo International Airport


Because the airport is underutilized by passenger services, it usually is a pleasant experience to check in and use the airport facilities. There rarely are large crowds of passengers trying to get to many destinations all at once. Most flights come in from and go back to Honolulu International Airport. One or two flights a day go to Maui with United’s mainland flights happening once a day during the night time hours. Hardly very busy.

Hawaiian Airlines offers about 12 flights a day to and from Hilo utilizing Boeing 717 jet aircraft. Mesa’s Go! Mokulele has about 4 flights a day with smaller Bombardier CRJ-200 jets.

Pick up and drop off at Hilo International is practically hassle free. Hardly any traffic, usually plenty of parking in the main metered lot. There is a car rental stand just across the main terminal. A U.S. Post office is just down the road. The airport is located about 2 miles away from the nearest hotel and shopping districts.

The weather in Hilo varies. Mostly it rains and is overcast. However there are clear weather days especially in the morning when flying into Hilo is very pleasant as one gets to see some nice views as aircraft take-off and land at the airport. Check the following views out and landing video:

Hilo Hawaii
Window seat view, final approach into Hilo, Runway 8L.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD-tsPeTOh8?rel=0]
Landing video into Hilo International Airport, November 2009.

Hilo Airport
Aerial view of Hilo International Airport’s main terminal.


Hilo Airport Photo Gallery
Air Nav: PHTO
Yelp! Hilo International Airport


Melvin Ah Ching is a photographer, consultant, blogger, desktop publisher, and computer enthusiast living and working in Hawaii. The Hawaii Files have been online since 2006.