How much will new KCI terminal cost travelers? Airlines’ agreement finally provides answers

Animated renderings show proposed approach to new KCI terminal

Animated renderings show the proposed approach to the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
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Animated renderings show the proposed approach to the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

Thursday’s formal announcement of the airlines’ agreement to pay for a new KCI terminal was immediately helpful. It injected facts into a discussion that has been fueled by rumor and speculation for months.

This is a welcome development that moves the region closer to a new terminal, while mitigating the distrust that has filled the information vacuum for far too long.

A majority of the airport’s eight airlines has agreed to a terminal construction fund target of $1.5 billion. That’s 50 percent higher than voters were originally told, but roughly $140 million less than an estimate last fall.

The airlines and developer Edgemoor say they can build the facility for $1.5 billion without cutting corners. That promise is almost impossible to test since the original higher estimate was largely a guess.

To raise $1.5 billion, an outside public agency will issue bonds. That will happen once this spring and again about two years from now.

The airlines believe they can pay for those bonds by spending between $112 million and $116 million a year over the next 33-35 years. That means the full cost of the terminal, for principal and interest, would be roughly $3.8 billion.

That’s about $9-$10 per passenger at KCI, based on current use. But because the additional cost can be spread to other passengers at other airports, the airlines think the “cost per enplanement” at KCI will only go up by about $5.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the cost of a ticket will go up that much; that will be determined by competition, routes, economics and other factors.

Other costs, such as parking and concessions, may go up slightly as well for airport operations.

Taxpayers will not pay for the airport. The airlines will, by charging their customers.

These facts, and others, prompted a cranky exchange or two at City Hall Thursday when the deal was discussed. While some of the council’s questions were on point, others were aimed at settling scores or maximizing political impact.

There’s a fine line between healthy skepticism and stonewalling. In the next few weeks, the City Council should be thorough, but not obstructionist.

In fact, a timely council decision might help the city avoid the awkward need to borrow $90 million or so for a few weeks to get things up and running and to pay some old bills. That’s infinitely preferable to borrowing from the Water Department, or a private bank or even from the airport itself.

We have supported a new terminal for almost two years. Kansas City is on the verge of breaking ground on a project that will cost passengers a few bucks per ticket, but will provide the comfort and safety the current airport has lacked for years.

This progress is welcome and overdue. That, too, is a fact.