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Southwest Airlines counts costs amid plans to change KCI

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly (left) and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon unveiled the “Missouri One” Boeing 737, painted to look as if it had been draped in the Missouri flag. Southwest also announced a $5,000 gift to Union Station’s Science City Summer Camp.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly (left) and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon unveiled the “Missouri One” Boeing 737, painted to look as if it had been draped in the Missouri flag. Southwest also announced a $5,000 gift to Union Station’s Science City Summer Camp. The Kansas City Star

Plans to either renovate or rebuild Kansas City International Airport should focus on keeping costs low, the chief executive of Southwest Airlines said Wednesday in Kansas City.

Gary Kelly, who heads the carrier with the largest KCI service, 68 daily departures, said low costs mean low fares and that’s what will generate enough traffic to justify the costs of any updates.

“I agree and Southwest agrees we definitely could stand to make some improvements. The question still remains exactly what is the best way to do that in the most cost-efficient manner,” Kelly said.

Air travelers are sensitive to price, something Kelly said is evident each time oil prices climb and the cost of flying jumps.

“It absolutely kills traffic,” he said.

Kansas City aviation officials have been working with airline officials on ways to improve the 1970s-era airport. A redesign that would replace the existing three-terminal footprint with a single central terminal has drawn opposition from many who favor the convenience KCI currently provides Kansas City area travelers.

A city task force has favored a one-terminal rebuilt airport, but negotiations continue, with a May 2016 deadline for a final recommendation.

Kelly spoke after unveiling a Boeing 737 jet painted as if wrapped in the Missouri state flag, a show of commitment to service and jobs in the state. It’s the 10th jet in the airline’s fleet painted to honor one of the states it serves. The others include Illinois and Colorado.

Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri and Mayor Sly James of Kansas City were on hand for the presentation. The group christened the repainted plane “Missouri One” at the Aviation Technical Services aircraft overhaul base.

“We didn’t want to just tell you how much we appreciate you. We wanted to show you,” Kelly said at the presentation.

Asked about potential improvements at KCI, Kelly said the airport’s current design makes it difficult to screen passengers and provide access to concession stands and shops. And that makes the airport experience inefficient for travelers, especially those who are arriving on one flight to make connections with another, he said.

He cited recent work at Love Field in Dallas as a way to reconcile passenger convenience with security measures. The airport is built in a T shape, with passenger screening done in a central area leading to connections and a concession area.

“At Love Field we started over. After 50 years it had gotten to be an unwieldy mess, and it’s just a much better airport” than it was, Kelly said.

Kelly said neither he nor the airline had reached any decisions about what they’d like to see done at KCI.

“We’re the largest airline in Kansas City, so we’ll naturally take a leadership role in that,” he said. “It’s an important role, but it’s important that we try to get it right.”

Kit Bond, recognized at the presentation for his work in the U.S. Senate on behalf of KCI, said the collective work on airport plans is the right way to get the best solution.

“KCI was designed in a much simpler time,” Bond said. “I’m sure there are ways to make it more efficient and traveler-friendly.”

As the largest operating carrier, Southwest also would bear much of the cost — either directly or indirectly through fees — for the work ultimately done at the airport.

“In the meantime, we have an airport that works,” Kelly said. “While it may not be perfect, we’re certainly taking off and landing every day.”

Southwest has flown here since February 1982.

The airline also announced a $5,000 gift to Union Station’s Science City Summer Camp. The camp runs from June 8 through Aug. 7 for children ages 6 through 12.

Plans for renovating or rebuilding Kansas City International Airport should focus on keeping costs low, the chief executive of Southwest Airlines said Wednesday in Kansas City. Gary Kelly said low costs mean low fares and that’s the only way to ke

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372 or send email to mdavis@kcstar.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at mdkcstar.

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