Seventeen months ago, I wrote this about Kansas City International Airport:
“KCI is the dullest, dreariest major airport I’ve ever seen, and it’s horribly inefficient as far as check-in, security and concessions. A move to a single terminal — an inevitability — can’t happen soon enough for me.”
In that blog, I also said, “A new, all-in-one terminal would inject energy into Kansas City, just as construction of the Power & Light District energized downtown.”
Five readers commented on that blog, and each of them defended the existing three-terminal design — which is now nearly 40 years old — because of its efficiency.
Now, if you happened to read Lynn Horsley’s excellent, front-page story about KCI in Sunday’s Kansas City Star, you’ll know that the existing KCI’s days are numbered.
Yes, folks, quaint and cozy Kansas City Insipid Airport is on the way to becoming a trucking or freight terminal and a facility “for businesses needing ample parking and airport access.”
What’s the matter with KCI?
For starters, it’s dull and dark, and its retail and food options are pathetic.
Oh, and did you know that because of its layout, with no central security point and no “spokes” to gate areas, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are wasted on excess security people and other personnel who need to be deployed throughout three different terminals?
But here’s the clincher: In terminal A, only eight of 27 gates are being used. In Terminal C, only 12 of 24 gates are being used. In Terminal B, meanwhile, where Southwest Airlines holds sway, 20 of 24 gates are in use.
As Horsley aptly put it, “Terminals A and C sometimes resemble ghost towns.”
That’s ridiculous. If we want to remain a major-league city in every respect, we must have a modern terminal — one that is not only efficient but hums with activity and sends a signal that you have arrived (or are leaving) a place that holds out the prospect of activity and excitement.
As usual, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver gets the picture. One role of airports, he told Horsley, is to function as “glamorous ports of entry into a community.”
Mark VanLoh, city aviation director, has a clear view, too. “The situation with the three terminals is getting worse. It’s a mess…It (a new terminal) is going to happen regardless of whether our citizens want it to happen.” He estimates that a new terminal will open within 10 years.
Plans are for the new terminal, which would cost $1 billion to $2 billion, to be located south of the existing airport on city-owned land. It would use the same runways, but the terminal would be four miles closer to people arriving from the south — the direction that the vast majority of airport users come from.
The new terminal would be about 700,000 square feet, compared to the current terminals’ 1.2 million square feet. The reduction, Horsley said, would mean “big savings on utilities, while still accommodating 15 million passengers or more per year.”
And that bulging price tag? No tax increase necessary. “The money…would come from federal aviation dollars, the airlines themselves and taxes and fees paid by airline customers,” The Star’s story said.
The Aviation Department is one of two “enterprise” departments, along with the water and pollution control, that pays for itself through customer fees.
Those among us who are having trouble giving up the “curb-to-gate-is-best” philosophy need to think this through and consider what we want our city to be in the future. Do we want to continue being a destination city, like Denver, St. Louis and Indianapolis, or do we want to be an also-ran, falling farther behind other major cities with newer, first-class airport terminals.
Jerry Orr, the aviation director in Charlotte, NC, where the airport serves nearly 40 million passengers a year, told a visiting contingent from the KC chamber of commerce this fall that with a new terminal Kansas City could get more direct, international flights.
In other words, KCI could actually be an international airport, deserving of its name.