Many love KCI, but new single terminal not dead yet

02/11/2014 6:26 PM

02/11/2014 6:26 PM

The big, costly and complicated question of what to do at Kansas City International Airport has taken baby steps toward resolution in the last two days.

• As expected, a lot of (mostly older) people showed up at a public hearing Monday night at Oak Park High School to say KCI’s status quo is just fine with them.

They said KCI is

comfortable and convenient, and they don’t want to pay for something new

.

While this is a fine expression of support for the current KCI, it misses the point of whether a new terminal could be built with the same convenience, while at a reasonable price adding some amenities the two existing terminals now lack.

Plus, KCI is dumpy and outdated in places, and repairs must be made to serve not the current citizens but future generations of younger people who will be using the airport.

The public hearing didn’t really get into whether it would make more sense to pay for major upgrades vs. build a new terminal.

• On Tuesday morning, the consultants for the Airport Terminal Advisory Group told the citizens panel that KCI was a low-cost airport that draws lots of passengers. Partly that’s because there’s very little competition from other airports within three hours of Kansas City.

Two consultants from Frasca Associates compared KCI and 19 peer airports. Overall, the conclusion was that KCI did a good job serving its current passenger load, with enough gates at just two terminals.

But the report also made it clear that the citizens panel shouldn’t fear the threats from Southwest Airlines and others that service could decline a lot at KCI if costs go up a few dollars to pay for a better airport.

There’s strong demand here for airline service, they indicated, so someone is going to want to take people to and from Kansas City.

Frasca’s consultants also noted that a new terminal could bring in a lot more money for KCI to use to pay for improvements. For example, KCI is the lowest of all 20 airports in concession revenue at 66 cents per passenger, almost $1 a passenger lower than the average. If KCI could add better concessions and reach the average, that could bring in $5 million extra a year from passengers, Frasca consultants said.

The Frasca overview given Tuesday morning did not come close to answering the question of whether it would make financial sense to burden airline customers with higher fees to build a new terminal. (When the full report is available, presumably later Tuesday, I will link to it here.)

More public hearings are scheduled over the next month.

While many people will show up to champion the status quo, task force co-chairman Bob Berkebile agreed Tuesday morning that some people at the Oak Park High School hearing had incorrectly thought their taxes would go up to pay for a new terminal. In reality, airline users pay for KCI’s operations, not general taxpayers.

A citizens task force member suggested passing out a KCI fact sheet at future hearings to reduce the spread of misinformation about KCI, which is a good idea.

Berkebile also said 25 people at the hearing had filled out cards indicating support for the current KCI, while four indicated they supported major changes, and five wanted to get more information before making a final decision.

Co-chairman Dave Fowler also indicated Tuesday that the citizens group should ponder whether KCI’s unique design is the best way to serve passengers.

That properly helps keep alive the discussion of whether a single terminal might still be the best way to go while building an airport to last Kansas City the next 50 years.

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