Kansas City International Airport Flying Higher

Kansas City International Airport has a new look. And more people than in past years are seeing it.

The massive renovation of the airport's three terminals, which started in 2001, was completed in November with the opening of the last renovated terminal segment, occupied by Southwest Airlines.

The makeover also includes a 15,000-space parking lot that has been operating more than a year. Two other projects are under construction: a $90 million consolidated rental car facility at the site of the former satellite parking lot and a 60-foot-tall neon light and water sculpture on the Cookingham Drive median near the terminals' entry.

The completion of these capital projects comes at a time when passenger traffic numbers are up.

More than 9.7 million passengers departed from or arrived at KCI in 2004; a 3.9 percent increase from 2003, according to passenger data from the Kansas City Aviation Department. That marked the airport's first annual increase since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That number still is far from the 11.9 million passengers who came through the airport in 2000, or the 12 million mark in 2001 that the airport was on pace to surpass until the attacks.

But airport officials are optimistic that the numbers signal a recovery from the attacks and the 2002 demise of Vanguard Airlines, which used to be the second-busiest carrier at KCI.

And 2005 appears to be off to a good start. The Aviation Department reported that 682,877 people went through KCI in January, a 3.7 percent increase from last year.

And last week, the airport received a positive A2 bond rating from Moody's Investors Service for the bonds that are being issued for the construction of the rental car facility. The bond ratings are a frequent measuring stick of the airport's finances.

The terminal renovations include blue terrazzo flooring, new walls and electronic signage, new concessions and retail shops, new ticket counters and technology that allows Internet access through wireless-fidelity connections.

An estimated $5 million in savings from the $258 million project will be used for the construction of restrooms in the passenger holding areas. Construction is expected to begin this summer. Travelers in the holding areas have to go through the security screening a second time if they have to use the restroom. That has become a frequent complaint.

Airport officials also are aggressively marketing a large tract of property for economic development. The 640-acre tract south of the runway area is believed to be one of the largest, single-owned, on-site airport properties in the United States. It could be used by high-tech manufacturing companies and distribution firms, officials said.

KCI is not the only city-owned airport that is undergoing a transformation. At the Wheeler Downtown Airport, the main runway will be closed several months beginning March 28 as crews make pavement and electrical improvements.

The airport's other runway will remain open, but it is scheduled to close for 40 working days by late summer as work is done at the intersection of the two runways. During that time, all jets will be diverted to KCI.

The $20 million project is part of a recently approved master plan for the airport. The plan recommended runway safety area extensions, relocation of the airport's fuel farm and improvements to allow for construction of hangars.

All projects from the master plan would total $70 million. Nearly 75 percent of the funding will come from federal aviation funds.

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