The quintessential Reef Honolulu Airport runway is about to have another birthday. The 12,000 foot airstrip, seemingly the longest of HNL’s runways, was completed nearly 45 years ago in late 1977 at a cost of $81 million. It was the first major airport runway to be built completely offshore on underwater coral. The runway at Honolulu International Airport also became a designated alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle.
The Reef Honolulu Airport runway (designated as 8R/26L) was first planned in the early 1960’s and took nearly two decades to complete. This type of environmentally sensitive project would never be approved of in today’s environment.
Current repair work taking place on Honolulu Runways 4R and 4L reminded us of the Reef.
In large part the idea for the reef runway was to mitigate noise from large jets flying over Honolulu. At most times, departures are over the ocean rather than over land. Thus, it provides aircraft pilots with additional ingress and egress directed away from the city’s population along with great visibility.
In actuality, as Stan pointed out to us, “while the Reef Runway at 12,000 feet is impressively long, it is not the longest runway at HNL. 8L is a smidgen longer at 12,312 and is jointly owned by the military and the State Airport.”
The Reef Honolulu Airport runway is something hard to miss.
On arrival, you’ll typically see it out the right side of the plane before making the sharp, final, right turn just before landing. On departure, the reef is quite far from the terminals, so you’ll notice an extended taxi time of up to 15 minutes. When you reach the runway, you’ll see it out on the left side of the plane. Great views and photo opportunities are afforded when using the Reef runway.
There are those rare times, too, during what we often term “Kona” conditions, when you’ll have even more unique views, as you approach and depart the reef from opposite ends. We’ve had that experience only a few times in decades of Honolulu flights.
The reef runway consists of nearly 20 million cubic yards of material brought in via hydraulic pumping from offshore. An additional 16 million pounds of stone were used to protect the runway from the bordering Pacific Ocean.
There’s something about the reef runway that’s incomparable.
When your flight taxis out to the reef, you always know that you’re in for a unique Hawaii treat. And following the aircraft’s take-off, even more so.
Do you have a special feeling about the reef runway like we do?
Beat of Hawaii friend Keoki said: As a student pilot in the late ’70s … I was always excited to fly into HNL…. I have flown into and from 8R (the reef runway). In a plane going 70-80 mph I felt like I was landing on the world’s biggest aircraft carrier!
Beat of Hawaii lead photo: Landing on reef runway in a legacy Island Air De Havilland Canada Dash 8.
See UAL reef runway take off video.
While frequented more by Hawaiian Airlines than anyone else, you’ll see a large number of take-offs and landing on the reef runway, including flights to as far away as New York (in the United Airlines video), somewhere in the middle such as San Francisco or Los Angeles, or as close by as Kahului Airport Maui, or Hoolehua or Kalaupapa Airport on Molokai.