New $1 billion expansion of San Diego airport seen as a model for KCI

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08/19/2013 6:16 PM

05/16/2014 10:01 AM

If this is any comfort, Kansas City residents are being asked to build an entirely new airport terminal for only a couple hundred million dollars more than San Diego just paid for an expansion that added only 10 gates along with a lot of other conveniences.

The new $1 billion addition to San Diego International Airport opened last week and is getting great reviews for its 9,200 square-foot “Sunset Cove” food and retail area, and automated features that allow most passengers to pretty much do everything themselves.

Tom Rossbach of Kansas City-based HNTB, which designed the 420,000 square-foot terminal expansion in San Diego, said passengers there can obtain their boarding pass at “smart curbs,” outside the terminal, self-check their baggage at kiosks inside and then insert their pass and enter the jet-way through automatic gates.

HNTB has worked as a consultant for KCI previously, but its most recent contract ended six months ago.

Even the hassles at security in San Diego are expected to diminish soon. The Transportation Security Administration is pursuing a plan to allow half of all passengers in the U.S. to be able to pre-check and skip taking off shoes, jackets and many of the other indignities by 2015.

That pre-check security privilege will be available to frequent fliers. Other also will be able to apply by submiting to a background check and paying a small fee. After that, they can go through security by simply having their carry-on bag X-rayed and walking through a metal detector.

So why can’t we just retrofit the existing Kansas City terminals to include all those convenient new gizmos and skip the proposed $1.2 billion single-terminal proposal?

“The self-baggage check takes more lobby depth,” Rossbach said. “First you need the boarding pass printout and then you check your bag. Kansas City doesn’t have that depth.”

He added the TSA wouldn’t be able to offer the pre-check service at KCI as it’s currently configured because there’s not enough room for the additional line it would require.

“It requires special lanes and you can’t do it because we have 13 separate check points in Kansas City,” he said. “We can’t afford the added lane.”

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the expansion project received $62 million in federal grants, passenger facility fees kicked in another $119 million and the city issued 30-year bonds totaling $637 million.

The San Diego price tag expanded the number of gates from 41 to 51. It’s the 28th-largest airport in the U.S. with 8.7 million boardings last year.

KCI, which currently has 48 active gates, is the 32nd largest with 4.9 million boardings in 2012. The new terminal proposed here would have 37 gates.

One similarity is both airports are destinations, not hubs where people transfer from one flight to another.

Rossbach said the additional amenities at the new San Diego terminal addition, including more food, specialty retail and other services like lots of places to recharge smart phones and other electronics, have been welcomed by passengers even though most are just coming and going, not waiting for a connecting flight.

And from a gateway point of view, the expanded San Diego facility is being viewed as an aesthetic success. It’s environmentally friendly too, aiming for a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“It’s easy to understand why people like the Kansas City airport,” Rossbach said. “In terms of total walking distance, you can’t beat it.

“The other half of the passengers, however, don’t live in Kansas City and they have a different opinion than residents.

“If you want to put your best face forward to your guest, you want a great front door so they’ll want to come back again. You want them to say ‘wow, this is a world-class city.”

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