Naval Air Museum Barbers Point is a wonderful aviation museum situated at the historic, former naval air station once known as NAS Barbers Point on O’ahu, Hawaii. Unfortunately, this museum is under imminent threat of eviction for what appear to be deeply unjust reasons. Warbird Digest’s very own Greg Morehead has dug into the issue, and reports here on the story. There are ways that we can help the museum, so please take note!
Evicting History: Understanding the Effort to Kill Naval Air Museum Barbers Point
by Greg Morehead
With old black and white photos in hand, a man drove into the former Naval Air Station Barbers Point. While his wife and daughter glanced casually at the old buildings, he was on a mission – a mission to find his dad. They visited the old BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) and base swimming pool. Here they held out black and white photos of a young Naval Aviator in the prime of his life and agreed, “That’s exactly where Dad was in this photo!” Filled with the deep emotional connection to the land they’d just walked upon, the family walked a little further to visit the only organization dedicated to the men and women who unanimously called this ground the best duty station of their military careers. They walked among the priceless artifacts of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point (NAMBP), a collection of Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard aircraft types that served during the base’s 62 year history – from 1942, when the “Greatest Generation” was engaged in World War Two, to the Cold War when huge, long range aircraft plied the ocean’s vastness looking for Soviet submarines or aircraft.
The man led his family toward a vintage military jet they could see someone working on. It just happened that Brad Hayes, NAMBP Director, had the A-4 Skyhawk’s canopy open to perform some maintenance. He struck up a conversation with the jovial family that approached him. Hayes recalled, “He knew there were 500 A-4Es built and used all the correct jargon, so it was obvious he was a ‘Navy brat’ when he told me his dad flew the A-4E. I invited him to climb up and feel the tight quarters ‘his old man felt.’ He lightly and thoughtfully touched the hand holds as he climbed in. I began to chat with his wife and daughter about their vacation. Small talk was interrupted by sniffling and choking from the cockpit and I looked up to see him wiping tears from under his sunglasses. I asked if he ‘was all good’ as his wife’s expression mirrored my inquisitive concern. It was then that she softly explained that his dad was shot down in an A-4E over North Vietnam and his remains were never recovered. As I walked away to leave them to their healing, I knew that he found his dad.”
Similarly significant memories are routinely created at Naval Air Museum Barbers Point. Each time Brad Hayes and the dedicated docents provide guided tours, they are more certain of their noble mission and the priceless and intangible value of their museum. NAMBP is one of only two aviation museums in Hawaii. The other is located at Pearl Harbor. Both have their place in Hawaiian history, but what makes Barbers Point special is the fact that it is still an active airport. So, while visitors enjoy a personalized guided tour, they can see flight operations in real time. The sights, sounds, and smells of the busy airport add a unique dimension to the experience.
Unfortunately however, the State of Hawaii’s Department of Transportation Aviation Division (DOTA) seems determined to snuff out Naval Air Museum Barbers Point… After years of what can only be termed as harassment, they served the museum eviction papers in September.
When one reads the DOTA’s eviction notice, it is easy to interpret the document as a logical justification for the museum’s closure and its eviction from the airport. It might even be a valid justification, IF IT WERE TRUE! But, it clearly is not. There is ample evidence to reveal the deceit underlying this eviction attempt. DOTA’s notice states three reasons for the eviction:
- Lack of insurance
- Parked aircraft in unauthorized areas
- Environmental violations
The first point seems to be an easy claim to disprove. According to Museum Director Brad Hayes, NAMBP has maintained the required liability insurance and has repeatedly provided evidence of insurance to DOTA and airport management. So why has DOTA repeatedly ignored the museum’s proof of compliance?
Investigating the second point reveals DOTA itself created the parking problem but provided no realistic remedial option. Between 2010 and 2012, several changes took place. The original parking area for museum aircraft was disrupted when DOTA ordered NAMBP to move their exhibits to facilitate airport development. DOTA wanted to install water and sewer lines to service new T-hangar construction, and this involved the excavation of a trench through the museum’s aircraft parking area. As a result, DOTA canceled the Museum’s parking permit and Revocable Permit and ordered the relocation of the aircraft. Airport District Manager Roy Sakata met with Hayes and showed him a map of the area he picked for the “temporary” placement of museum aircraft, which was coincidentally the location for a future hangar meant to support the Army National Guard (ARNG). Conveniently for DOTA, they afforded no viable solution for NAMBP, so it is through the actions of DOTA itself that the museum is out of compliance regarding its aircraft parking. So why has DOTA cried foul when the parking problem is one of their own making?
Regarding the ominous-sounding environmental violations; simply stated, vehicles leaked a small amount of oil onto the ramp – a common occurrence for any vehicle, whatever its condition. During a routine inspection of the museum’s aircraft and equipment during August 2019, six minor infractions were noted. The infractions included stains on the ramp from oil drip pans that needed cleaning, a liquid storage container that was uncovered that didn’t have a secondary spill safeguard, and an anonymous complaint about an engine that was pressure washed on the ramp, allowing fluids to run across it. As seems reasonable, DOTA required corrective action for each incident, and indeed the museum addressed all six issues, with the corrective action dates listed on the DOTA Closure report – a report which lists the museum in compliance! Indeed, the museum has documented a number of situations elsewhere on the airfield where other parties have more significant environmental issues to remedy that have so far gone unnoticed. So why would DOTA single out the museum for this kind of infraction, while ignoring more severe cases elsewhere?
The answer to these questions probably lies in what remains unsaid. General Aviation has been under serious pressure from commercial interests for some time across the USA, with the situation in Hawaii being no different. Nobody should be surprised that this state, with some of the most valuable real estate in the world, would make it difficult for an aviation museum to exist… large aircraft exhibits take up a lot of space, and land comes at a significant premium. So are we really to believe that DOTA is evicting the museum for the reasons they listed in their eviction notice – especially when they remained unmoved by the provable evidence counteracting their claims? A rational review of the situation leads us to suspect that the primary reason behind DOTA’s eviction effort is the desire to trade a museum for commercial development.
DOTA plans to transform the historic airfield into a Part 139 airport. This will mean that this sleepy, relatively accessible airport, that is tightly surrounded by neighborhoods on three sides, will fortify into one bristling with TSA assets, gates, guards and guns. As a result, all airport tenants will face radically increased operating costs. But perhaps more importantly, given the close proximity of significant local housing, the airport expansion plans will almost certainly face a formidable grass roots fight that will likely kill the Part 139 effort, as has happened so frequently in other states. It may even kill the airport as a going concern… freeing up all of that valuable land for development. Unfortunately, by the time the airport loses that battle it could be too late for the museum…
Whomever is truly behind this effort to crush Naval Air Museum Barbers Point is uncertain at present. What is clear is that The State of Hawaii Department of Transportation Airport Division has presented a flimsy, provably false, fig leaf of an excuse to support this goal for demolishing an important historical museum which means so much to so many people. They are trying to rush through this effort, to bully their way past the museum, by providing a completely inadequate amount of time for them to gather support and prepare a defense.
While the State of Hawaii has comparatively unlimited legal resources, the museum is virtually without representation. If you want to see this museum saved, your immediate support is needed. The museum has a GoFundMe page where they have a $10,000 goal to begin their legal defense. (Just retaining a lawyer costs at least $5,000!) Please click HERE to help!
People to contact to express opposition to the eviction: