The media are abuzz tonight with news that Kansas City International Airport is #26 on a list of 50 infrastructure projects the Trump administration is considering as federal priorities. Some initial observations:
The FAA told the mayor’s KCI task force that federal funds could not be used for terminal makeovers but only air-side improvements. Of course, anything resembling a “we’ve always done it that way” mindset is likely invalid with a Trump administration but it’s worth noting nonetheless if only as a reminder that local officials originally told us the feds would pay for a new KCI while the feds always knew otherwise.
Aviation Director Pat Klein is to be commended for sensible and accurate remarks in the Star story tonight. Unlike his predecessor who might have already been scheduling the grand opening festivities and ordering the new plaque for the entryway, Mr. Klein’s remarks were measured and most differentiating, they were accurate:
Klein added that he is not assuming that placement on the list means Kansas City’s airport project would get a lot of federal funding. He just thinks its placement on the list was reasonable because the 44-year-old airport clearly must be modernized in some way, and Trump has talked about the need for airport upgrades all over the country.
“The president has mentioned aviation projects in a lot of his speeches,” Klein said.
Klein also said placement on the list doesn’t clarify in any way how KCI should be modernized. The city is still trying to build a community consensus on the best path forward for the airport — whether to demolish Terminal A and replace it with a single-terminal airport, or whether to renovate at least two of the existing terminals.
“We still need to have a community conversation,” Klein said. “It doesn’t change our local discussion.”
One of the key elements of the Trump plan is a public/private partnership sharing the expense. It should be noted that the two most recent terminal makeovers in which Southwest played a major role, Dallas and Ft. Lauderdale, were funded this way. By Southwest taking the lead, they were able to dramatically reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
Thus it would seem that a plan that gave operational and design control of our mothballed Terminal A to Southwest would fit into a Trump scenario. Southwest could use their own as well as Trump Dollars to make whatever improvements they felt necessary to keep their customers (us) happy as well as their employees and shareholders. The only cost to the city is control of a building that officials want to bulldoze anyway. That then leaves B&C for the other airlines. The moving of Southwest and 50% of the traffic at KCI to Terminal A immediately relieves crowding and affords lots of room for all of the hot dog stands and 5-star restaurants people think we need. We keep the convenience we love, the infrastructure needs are taken care of, the local bonds needed would be a fraction of what is being called for now and the efficiency of such a plan, given the immediate availability of Terminal A, might move it up on the priority list as a quick win.
Speaking of the list, regardless of whether any of it gets traction, it was nice to see St. Louis’ airport ranked at a solid #50.