Guest Commentary

Yes to a new KCI. It’s time to let go of the past and look to the future

KCI needs to better serve the traveler’s basic needs, writes Kansas City Councilman Dan Fowler.
KCI needs to better serve the traveler’s basic needs, writes Kansas City Councilman Dan Fowler. File photo

Kansas City International Airport was state of the art when it was built, but that was nearly 50 years ago. I’d like to think that 50 years ago I was in my prime, too. But like my knees after decades of use, KCI’s structural support systems are in gradual decline.

When the airport’s electrical, mechanical, air conditioning, heating or plumbing fails, it’s like a total knee replacement. And it’s expensive. Generally, all the parts needed for repair must be custom manufactured, because they just don’t make them anymore.

Besides cost, facility breakdowns cause havoc and delays for travelers — as when the water pipes break and restrooms must be shut down, or when the baggage conveyer jams and luggage must be hand carried and hand checked.

Beyond structural concerns, KCI needs to better serve the traveler’s basic needs. Have you ever been stuck inside the security area at KCI waiting on a delayed flight? I have, and it’s not pretty.

The seating is cramped, if you can find a place to sit at all. The restrooms inside the secured areas are tiny with long lines, and there is no room to make them larger. The food and drink options are wanting. And it’s just plain ugly.

No wonder KCI is ranked nationally by travelers as one of worst metropolitan U.S. airports.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world has changed, and air travel changed with it. Some changes have been good, like bigger, safer, faster planes.

But other adaptations have been more challenging, like airport security and sheer numbers of flyers served. KCI sees four times more travelers now than it did in 1972.

The proposed new KCI terminal is designed for convenience, safety, security and future growth. Deeper gate areas will allow for additional and improved customer amenities. Separate drop-off levels for departures and arrivals will be faster and safer. And the terminal is designed to open with 35 gates, yet it can be expanded to 42 as our city grows.

I used to love KCI — and my old bell-bottom jeans — but that was years ago. I’ve since decided it’s time to let go of those once-popular pants, and our outdated KCI as well. Neither meets today’s expectations, and frankly, neither fits comfortably anymore. Some changes are good.

A new KCI terminal is a good change that will not use Kansas City taxpayer dollars. The new KCI will be paid for entirely by airport revenue and the airlines, not the city. And that’s guaranteed in contract and in federal law.

Plus, building the new terminal will provide more than 17,000 new construction jobs, with unprecedented opportunities for local businesses and workers.

Our airport needs to reflect the world-class city it serves — one that welcomes, impresses and conveniently accommodates air travelers. That includes you, me, our families and our visitors.

We need a modern KCI. It is vital to keep our city moving forward.

Dan Fowler represents Kansas City’s 2nd District on the City Council. He is vice chair of the airport committee.