Government & Politics

Airlines issue new statement on KCI: Don’t delay election

The airlines serving Kansas City International Airport have notified the city’s aviation director that they don’t want a public election on a new airport terminal delayed past November.

And they warn that the longer the City Council debates the airport’s future, the more it jeopardizes their business at KCI.

In an email sent Wednesday to Aviation Director Pat Klein, Steve Sisneros, director of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines, said the airlines want a public election on a new single terminal to occur this year, and not be put off until 2018. The email was obtained by The Kansas City Star.

“The airlines want the election to occur as soon as possible and we hoped it would have occurred by now,” Sisneros wrote. He noted that if it’s postponed to 2018, previous estimates of the cost of a new terminal, judged to be about $964 million in 2015 dollars, would be nearly three years old and would have to be updated.

Southwest is the largest air carrier at KCI and has spoken for what is said to be a unified position of all the airlines, wanting a new single terminal built at the airport. That proposal must go to a vote of the Kansas City public, and polling has shown that many city residents would prefer to keep the existing horseshoe-terminal configuration.

The City Council has been debating how to proceed, especially since Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell announced in early May that it was preparing a plan to design, build and privately-finance a new terminal, in line with that $964 million estimated cost that the airlines said they could afford.

Burns & McDonnell wanted an exclusive deal, but the city last week announced it would seek competitive proposals, with a deadline for experienced aviation companies to submit by June 20.

Then this week, the council met in closed session with attorneys, and some council members said they were advised that the June 20 deadline might be too short a timeframe. Councilwoman Teresa Loar said they were advised that a 45- to 60-day timeframe was more reasonable.

Loar and several others said they might consider a measure at Thursday’s council meeting to extend that solicitation timeframe.

But if they allow submittals into late July or August, that could hinder the chances of preparing ballot language by late August, which must be done to hold a November election. That could put the election off into next April.

In his email, Sisneros said, “It would be unfortunate if the election was further delayed into 2018, but it’s ultimately the City’s decision to proceed or not.”

He added, “The longer it takes for this to move forward, the greater the challenges are to both our customers and our employees who work at KCI.”

“We are cognizant of the community’s perception regarding the convenience factor of KCI’s short curb drop off to gate,” the email continued. “However, as an airline, convenience to our customers is many things and we work very hard to give them the best possible travel experience. Convenience also means having a place to sit, the ability to use the restroom, have food, beverage and retail amenities. The current terminal layout creates serious operational and customer experience challenges that would be solved by the new single terminal. As you know, rarely do airlines agree on something but in the case of KCI, we are currently in agreement on this.”

Sisneros said the Burns & McDonnell proposal assumes the project can be completed at the same or lower cost that the airlines have agreed is affordable. No general Kansas City taxpayer dollars are at stake. The new terminal cost would be paid for with airline rents, concessions, parking and other airport revenues.

Sisneros made a pitch for the Council to move forward as quickly as possible.

“As we have recently stated publically, Southwest and the other carriers believe this private financing concept has a lot of potential to deliver the facility we need at a lower cost. Once the bid process in complete and a team is selected, we look forward to working with them to see if this can work. The airlines are anxious to get moving on these discussions.”

The Council meets every Thursday and the airport was expected to dominate much of Thursday’s discussions.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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