Advisory panel meeting has odd and revealing moments about KC airport’s possible future

02/11/2014 2:21 PM

02/11/2014 6:20 PM

Dave Fowler, the co-chairman of a citizen’s advisory panel that is considering the future of Kansas City International Airport, may have betrayed his bias toward an overhaul in an odd moment of a hearing Tuesday morning in City Hall.

During the meeting’s first segment, Jim Johnson, a regional manager here for the Federal Aviation Administration, had been testifying about federal funds, based on fees, that come back to airports for certain uses. And he asserted the FAA’s neutrality on terminal design issues, except for safety concerns and the “geometrics” of landing strips, gate aprons and similar exterior features.

Johnson reiterated that the federal agency had no interest in or responsibility for interior terminal layouts.

“Everybody knows Kansas City’s airport is a unique design,” Johnson said. “It’s a personal preference for some and a nightmare for others.”

Fowler pounced on the latter half of the sentence: “A nightmare for others,” he repeated. He seemed to be joking, but he also seemed to be enticing agreement from Johnson and others in the room.

“Nightmare,” of course, buttresses the business community’s argument that KCI’s three-terminal concept needs to be replaced by a more efficient and alluring (in their view) single-terminal plan. And it’s the polar opposite of what the panel and others are hearing from citizens who are clinging to the convenience and comforts of the 42-year-old airport.

Later, during testimony by representatives of the panel’s outside airport consultants, Frasca & Associates, Fowler went a little off track by wondering aloud and rhetorically that “the most important question is, Why is KCI unique?”

That misses the point. The real question ought to be, Is KCI’s unique, circular, three-terminal design still viable in the 21st century and if not, what should be done about it?

The KCI Terminal Advisory Group has been putting in hard work and long hours in search of a solution. We’ll know by May 1 whether they recommend to the city one of three apparent choices: a single terminal, the status quo or some level of major improvements and retrofits in between.

In the meantime, the panel’s leaders should listen more closely to the evidence and keep an open mind on the best course.

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