Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Border war: Can Kansas 'steal' K.C. airport from Missouri?
By Ben Mutzabaugh
Suddenly there’s talk of two big airports for Kansas City, though the idea of adding a second airport has more to do with politics and opportunism than with soaring passenger demand.
The proposal to build a new Kansas City airport comes as the metro area’s current airport – situated in Missouri – has struggled to advance a plan to update its aging terminal.
The airport currently has an old-fashioned layout, where gates are not behind a streamlined security checkpoint. Instead, relatively small clusters of gates are each given their own security checkpoints – an unusual set-up among U.S. airports.
Proposals have called for consolidating the airport’s gates behind a new central terminal with a unified security checkpoint that would allow fliers to roam more freely between gates or from gates to concession areas.
Kansas City airport terminal: Renovate or rebuild?
“But,” writes The Kansas City Star, “the city halted talks amid polling that suggested there wasn’t broad support for the effort. Kansas City residents, it seemed, prefer the convenience of (the airport's) current layout.”
Indeed, many local travelers have been vocal in their preference for the current layout. That, those folks say, preserves the ability to park close to the terminal buildings and then walk directly to the security line at their gates. They fear distant walks and long lines would come with a consolidated central terminal building.
However, some visitors to Kansas City also have been vocal in their dislike for the airport’s current layout. Complaints include being penned in at the small post-security gate areas or the hassle of exiting and reentering security at certain gate areas. Access to restaurants, restrooms and power outlets is often difficult at some gate areas, some of which overflow during peak periods. The airport returned a below-average score among airports its size in the 2016 J.D. Power customer-satisfaction ratings of airports.
Perhaps more importantly, airlines don’t like the current set-up either. They claim it’s an inefficient operation and have pledged some of their own money to help pay for a terminal redesign. Industry observers say a new terminal could also help lure more flights by allowing carriers like Southwest – currently one of Kansas City’s biggest airlines – to sell more connecting itineraries that are now difficult because of the gate-space issues.
Airlines tell Kansas City 1 terminal would be better than 3
Against that backdrop, Kansas officials seem to sense an opportunity. The Kansas City metro area, of course, is split across two states. Both the city’s traditional central business district and current major airport each sit on the Missouri side, but a significant part of the metro area lies within Kansas.
Now, with the terminal redesign impasse, Kansas may try to lure one of the region’s biggest job- and revenue-generators to its side of the border.
The Kansas City Star, which broke the story, says that “with plans to revamp Kansas City International Airport stalled, Gov. Sam Brownback and others in Kansas government are exploring the possibility of building an airport in Johnson County (in Kansas) to rival (KCI).”
Locals refer to Kansas City International as “KCI,” which confuses some outsiders since the airport’s three-letter code used by online travel sites (and by the FAA) is “MCI.”
Regardless of how the airport is abbreviated, the Kansas governor confirmed to the Star his state is looking into the idea of building a new airport on that side of the border.
“Airlines are requesting construction of a new single terminal airport at (KCI), and the state of Kansas is continually looking for new economic development opportunities,” Brownback said in an email to the Star. “With more than 50% of (KCI) passengers coming from Kansas, we are exploring the possibilities of this project.”
So, where does that leave the effort of Kansas City’s existing airport and its push for a new terminal?
That’s unclear. First, even if Kansas is ultimately able to muster support for a facility that would cost billions of dollars, a built-from-scratch airport could take a decade or longer to go from planning to ribbon-cutting.
Despite those obstacles, the shot across the bow has not gone unnoticed on the Missouri side of the border.
The Star writes comments from the Kansas officials “may drastically change the nature of debate about KCI, a project that Kansas City officials put on hold a year ago when polling suggested that residents were not keen on making substantive changes to the airport.”
In a follow-up story to its initial report, the Star talked to officials from Kansas City, Mo., who were reacting to the news.
“Brownback has found a way to steal business from Kansas City ... and thought, ‘Why not go for the airport, too?’ ” Scott Wagner, mayor pro tem in Kansas City (Mo.), said to the Star.
Kansas City (Mo.) Councilwoman Jolie Justus – also the chairwoman of the city’s Aviation Committee – called Gov. Brownback’s Kansas airport idea a “far-off dream.” However, she acknowledged to the Star the threat is real enough to spur the city into resuming talks on how to move ahead with plans for a new terminal.
“What I think this does is it makes us need to start this conversation again as a city and make sure that after we get past April 4 and the (general obligation) bond that we start to move toward a new terminal,” Justus said to the Star.
Stay tuned …