Move forward with planning for new KCI terminal
The Kansas City Star
Many Kansas Citians love their airport because of its defining feature: pickup and drop off close to the gates.
It’s a great convenience for many travelers — except that it forces inefficiencies in so many other things a modern airport must do. At Kansas City International Airport, the traveling public is spread thin, and where customers are dispersed the services they need are also thin and dispersed.
Confronting such inefficiencies, city officials have been pushing a new concept that would replace the horseshoe-shaped, three-terminal design with a single terminal and concourses. In the coming days, the City Council will be asked to say whether the planning process should continue. The members should vote yes.
The Aviation Department, despite a few missteps such as initially proposing that the new facility be four miles to the south, has made a reasonable case for proceeding.
Perhaps the knottiest problem with our 40-year-old airport is the difficulty of handling security. KCI’s opening in 1972 coincided with the beginning of the era in which airliners were seen as targets by hijackers, whackos and terrorists. That meant KCI’s close-to-curbside gates had to have separate security checkpoints. Today, KCI has 16 of them, where many airports have one.
Discussing this a couple of years ago, aviation officials said the screener staff at KCI, several hundred strong, was almost as large as all the screeners needed to handle New York’s three airports.
That costs a lot of money and causes other problems. Where other airports have a panoply of amenities in the secure zones, KCI doesn’t even have water fountains, and has inadequate rest rooms. If passengers must move to another gate because of a problem getting a plane ready, they have to be screened again.
In addition, public ground transportation, concentrated at one access point at other airports, is spread out at KCI and often clunky to access. Concession offerings are thin. Restaurant offerings are less than desirable. Passengers on layovers or awaiting flights can find themselves in nearly deserted terminals with few amenities.
The airlines also find the place tough to operate in. A concourse airport allows planes on both sides of a secure zone, where passengers are free to circulate and change flights. It’s no accident that KCI offers few nonstop flights.
Consultant Mark Perryman, heading up a study on a new KCI, says Kansas City has failed to leverage the natural advantage of its geographically central location. A new airport that makes connections easier could lead to more flights, more passengers and more business for Kansas City.
In a meeting with The Star’s Editorial Board, Mayor Sly James pointed out that the city is losing flights, a reality that affects the business climate. Yes, KCI has been convenient for pick up and drop off, but as he put it, “Convenience can’t be the only factor.”
He’s right. The City Council should let the planning process continue and give supporters time to fully show the advantages of a shift to a single terminal.