Business Leaders Call KCI 'A Little League Airport' That Needs Big Changes

Preliminary estimates are that a new terminal, close parking garage and other features could cost $1.2 billion, although aviation department officials have said they want to lower that price.


The testimony Tuesday was at odds with the last advisory committee meeting, in which Southwest Airlines representatives said that KCI is generally adequate and that a new terminal could drive up ticket prices. They said KCI already has nonstop service to about 50 destinations, which is very good for an airport that size, and there's no guarantee that an expensive new terminal would bring any new flights, either domestic or international, to Kansas City.

But the business executives said they thought a new terminal could at least give Kansas City the potential to attract more nonstop domestic flights or international flights, which could bring more business growth in the city.

Moran said he's had to travel to San Diego via Minneapolis and to Austin via Memphis, Tenn.

Aviation officials said Tuesday that KCI has lost nonstop flights in recent years to Austin; Columbus, Ohio; Oklahoma City; San Antonio; and Louisville, Ky. Frontier had also given up nonstop service to Reagan National in Washington, D.C., but Southwest announced Tuesday it will begin nonstop service to Reagan National on Saturday.

The airport has just a handful of international flights, with Air Canada going to Toronto and Frontier to Cancun, Mexico. Frontier also has limited winter service to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.

Kansas City aviation officials have also noted that the current two-terminal configuration is not conducive to attracting connecting flights in which Kansas City is the midpoint connection. That's because passengers making a connection often have to go outside a secure gate area to get to another gate. Or they may even have to transfer to another terminal.

Out of more than 9 million passengers in 2013, only 268,000 were on connecting flights.

At least one advisory committee member was not persuaded by Tuesday's testimony and criticisms of KCI.

Kevin Koster is a marketing executive who started the website SaveKCI.org. He said after Tuesday's meeting that the business executives and clients he associates with appreciate KCI, especially the ease of getting from car to gate, and they don't care so much about restaurants and other amenities.

"The people who've contacted me say a completely different story," Koster said. "They still can make a connection, park their car and be at the gate in six minutes."

He said he would be much less concerned about the image the airport projects than about airlines reducing nonstop flights at KCI because of the increased cost of doing business at a costly new terminal.

And he said the airport should be able to improve technology, security prescreening and other services within the existing terminal framework.

The advisory group has scheduled a public hearing on the airport's future for Feb. 10 from 6 to 8 p.m., with the location to be announced. Its next group meeting will be at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 11 at City Hall, where aviation consultants from Frasca and Associates will provide comparisons between KCI and peer airports. The group is also expected to hear from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The committee expects to issue its recommendations on the future of KCI in late April.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Kansas City Star

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