Committee begins considering changes to airport

The mayor’s KCI advisory group met Tuesday for what it calls airport school.

The group is gathering facts to answer a question: Should the three-terminal KCI airport be replaced by a single terminal airport?

The city council’s approval of planning for an estimated $1.2 billion single terminal airport has flown into substantial public opposition.

Bob Berkebile, a study group co-chair who worked on the  design for KCI before it opened in 1972, showed pictures of what then was gate security – low wooden railings with gaps between them so people could easily come and go. “There was no thought about security,” he said, but then KCI was considered on the cutting edge of airports.

KCI was placed where it is because jets replaced prop planes then and required more landing space than was available Downtown. The current site also made sense because TWA had a massive maintenance operation there.

Mark VanLoh, Kansas City aviation director, said that with about 11,000 acres, KCI is “one of the largest land area airports in the United States.”

The Federal Aviation Administration owns the property, finances some of KCI’s  $117 million budget and sets extensive rules and standards, he said.

The FAA also requires routine planning studies and is reviewing planning approved by the city council.

The city and airport operate together and independently.

“The revenues I generate cannot go to fix a sewer line on Main Street, VanLoh said. “It all has to go to the airport.”

Of 100 airports in the nation of any size, KCI ranks number 33 or 34 in terms of passengers served, and the largest portion of those passengers come from Kansas.

Also, VanLoh said, “the airlines are not going to come to Kansas City because of a nice shiny terminal sitting on the ground – they’re going to come here because they think they can make money.”

The concept of big hub airports is dead, he added. The city wants to attract more direct flights, which is done by showing airlines passenger numbers that prove direct flights would be profitable.

Asked what are the best new airports in the nation, VanLoh said there is no one best but many are being studied.

“What we want to do is like ideas and steal from everyone,” he said.

The next meeting July 2 is to include reports on things like passenger security, baggage movement, airport revenue and capital improvements.