A little over a week ago I launched this site with the simple hope of starting a conversation to learn why certain civic leaders think it’s a good idea to spend $1.2 billion to replace an airport that, according to a recent poll, 70% of us like and don’t want replaced. It’s been an excellent conversation to date with polite and civil discourse from both sides.
I’ve read all of the nearly 200 comments and postings to date. I’ve looked at and researched other airports around the country at the suggestion of posters. I’ve even read the 2006 New Century AirCenter Master Plan from the Johnson County Airport Commission.
I still don’t get it.
Regardless of whether I look at the reasons for building it or the speculation as to how it will be paid for, the numbers still don’t add up. So what is it? Is it just a bad case of “Airport Envy?”
I’ve lived here my entire life. I get how this town has always suffered from a “cowtown” inferiority complex. Regardless of how great Kansas City is, we refuse to see ourselves as just as pretty as the girl standing next to us. We might be nicer, smarter, more naturally beautiful, have a better sense of humor and a vastly superior sense of charity and caring, but by golly Buffy over there just had some cosmetic work done (because she stole Daddy’s credit card) and so we need to also if we ever want to be asked out.
To quote the noble Colonel Sherman Potter, “Horse Hockey!”
In fairness, our city leaders travel all over the country – as city leaders. They walk through airports, downtowns, river walks, stadiums and such and it’s only natural that they look at those facilities from a unique perspective. I’m simply asking them to overcome the “No fair, I want one of these” emotions and be smart leaders, not just another set of copycats. Remember that Kansas City is a great city. People want to move here to raise families.
But there are also 29 cities that are larger than we are. This brings two sets of realities. The first is that we don’t have a lot of the problems that other cities have. (But if we keep focusing on “me-too” projects at the expense of the social issues that cropped up again over the weekend, we soon will.) The second is that we don’t have the financial resources to satisfy every jealous urge.
Cities, just like individuals and businesses, that don’t have infinite resources need to think harder and be smarter than others.
For example, the consultant last week suggested looking at Austin, Sacramento and Indianapolis as markets where new terminals worked. I did and some of those findings have been reported elsewhere on this site. But something else about those airports was not noted. None of them border on a competitive state.
Currently the New Century airport in Olathe is not planning on seeking commercial traffic. This could change. The runway is already long enough and most importantly, airlines are now moving more and more traffic to regional carriers with smaller jets. This means to be profitable, they only have to find 50 people who want to fly to Chicago rather than 120. And since KCI’s passenger studies reveal that half of the current air traffic comes from JoCo, this would not be too hard.
Johnson County would not have to build anything fancy. I’ve flown into Central Wisconsin airport and Bangor, Maine, both of which are simple, easy, fast and built on a budget. If I work in the Lenexa, Olathe, South OP area, why would I want to drive 30-45 minutes each way to KCI and fight the crowds at the new combined security checkpoint, the new shopping concourse and make a longer walk to the gate to hop on a commuter jet when I can scoot over to Olathe and be half way to Chicago or Dallas at the same time I would be boarding my plane at KCI. All of a sudden saving a couple of hours, saving gas and a no hassle terminal in Olathe looks like a smart option to passengers, a revenue poacher for the county and full planes for the airlines.
So while we are told to fear Branson, St. Louis and even Columbia, I would be more concerned about our friends across the state line. Again, for now it’s not in their master plan but that plan is aging, there is a new spirit of cross-border business raiding and the South Johnson County population has continued to grow. KCI’s current convenience and offerings still provide a superior overall option – for now.
If Kansas City is going to change anything about KCI for “competitive” reasons, let’s make sure we are looking at ALL the competitors. Let’s also make sure that the biggest competitor is not simply our own ego.