Airline executives speak against high cost of a new KCI

A rendering of the new KCI airport. An upgraded and attractive airport does not boost passengers and could reduce flights if airline costs increase too much, airline officials said Tuesday.

It was the first time they spoke to the mayor’s KCI Advisory Group, which is studying whether to recommend building a new airport.

There is no dispute that KCI lacks in food, concessions and restrooms, has cramped space in holding areas and other problems, airline officials said.

But customers make flying decisions not on such things but on ticket costs and schedules, they said.

The airport functions well and has more than enough gates, which are the most important things, said Bob Montgomery, a Southwest Airlines vice president.

“It can accommodate everything we need to operate right now,” he said.

He and Southwest Vice President Ron Ricks spoke for all the airlines at KCI.

After years of bankruptcies and mergers since the 2001 terror attack and through the recession from 2008 to 2011, airlines are finally stable and do not expect vast growth, they said.

Costs of new airports or vast improvements fall on the airlines, Montgomery said, and that “creates a situation for us.”

It could drive the airline cost per passenger far above its current amount of about $5.00 at KCI, he said.

And that much higher cost could hurt profits and result in fewer flights, he said. “All airline assets are mobile and we put them where we make money.”

He said other cities have mistakenly spent more than $1 billion upgrading or replacing airports without enough input from airlines, Montgomery said.

Kansas City Aviation Department officials have said that it would cost from $645 million to $785 million to repair KCI’s three terminals – and still face problems – or from $960 million to $1.2 billion to build a new, far more efficient one-terminal airport.

David Fowler, study group co-chair, said Tuesday, “It’s not a decision about status quo, doing nothing, and we’ve already eliminated the Taj Mahal ($1.2 billion option) so it’s about something in between.”

Montgomery said he and other airline experts constantly work with airports on such costs and he recommended the study group meet regularly with a group of airline representatives.

He also suggested having contractors work with architects in shaping changes.

“Architects are wonderful people but they are artists at heart,” he said. “Contractors are pretty practical people.”

Bob Berkebile, the study group co-chair who in the 1960s was involved in designing KCI, asked Montgomery if it would not make sense to fix other issues once the project gets to a certain level of needed spending.

Montgomery said, “Until we know specifically what those are and have (information) about ways to skin a cat, I can’t have much of an opinion.”

The study group meets again in two weeks and will hear from business people about how the airport impacts businesses in the city.

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