A Southwest Airlines representative and a national aviation consultant gave an upbeat report Thursday to Kansas City Council members about their negotiations on possible improvements to Kansas City International Airport.
They described as “unprecedented” the cooperation occurring so far between the airlines and aviation officials on how to update the airport.
“In my 35 years of working in this industry, I have never seen this level of interest, engagement and airline involvement in a terminal project at an airport that was not a major hub or an international gateway,” said Sheri Ernico, a director with LeighFisher, a global management firm with a specialty in aviation. She is acting as a consultant for the Kansas City Aviation Department.
Ernico and Steve Sisneros, Southwest Airlines’ director of airport affairs, told the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that they are making good progress after seven months of negotiations on how to modernize the airport.
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“It’s time to bring KCI into the 21st century,” Ernico said, adding that the airport needs a flexible design that provides the security, technological improvements and other enhancements to take the airport decades into the future.
Sisneros said all the airlines at KCI are at the table and are happy with the level of input they’re having so far. He said their goal is to reach a consensus on the best approach going forward.
But Assistant City Manager Pat Klein cautioned that no decisions have been made about whether to build a new terminal or modify KCI’s existing terminals and any final recommendation may not come until May 2016.
The future of KCI has become one of the most contentious issues the council has faced amid a public outcry to preserve the airport’s convenience, unusually short curb-to-gate distance and affordability. Many residents have balked at a preliminary proposal to replace KCI’s three-terminal configuration with a new, single terminal.
In response to the public backlash, Mayor Sly James appointed a citizens task force that spent 11 months studying the issue and holding public hearings. At the end of that process, the task force said it preferred a new, single terminal but said numerous questions remained, including cost and how to pay for such a facility.
Klein told the committee that the airlines and Aviation Department are taking that recommendation and public feedback into account but are combining that with tons of data from the airlines.
Ernico assured the committee, “Nobody on this team is interested in building an iconic fortress.”
Instead, she said, everyone is focusing on finding the best design for a convenient, practical, functional, efficient and affordable airport. But it’s still far too early to know what that will look like.