Now that we’ve made it past the media’s new year predictions about KCI, we can get back to reality. Nothing has changed. The past few weeks have featured presentations by extremely well-paid consultants. Consultants hired to tell the Aviation Department what they want to hear so they can be hired back. So what did we learn? Primarily that we still can’t rely on honest transparency from Aviation, that their plan is to continue to throw “findings” and proposals at us like spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks and that the media has still not resolved in the new year to challenge what’s presented.

Let’s rewind. A few months ago we were told that it had been determined that a “renovation” of Kansas City International Airport was going to cost more than a brand new terminal so there was no longer any point to look at renovation options. Of course, while most average folks wondered how that was even possible, there was no push-back from the media. No one said, “Define renovation.” The new Council to their credit at least asked to see the numbers which were remarkably absent. The old Council would have simply said, “What are we waiting for?” And magically, the numbers are now such that the new terminal came down below that dreaded “billion dollar” mark while renovation went past it. One might conclude that the accountant works for a PR firm.

So how does a renovation cost more than a new terminal? By redefining renovation to mean building a completely new terminal inside the old one and adding stuff until the costs get to where you need them. Conveniently forgotten are three facts:

  1. The terminals were completely gutted to the concrete shell and renovated within the last 15 years. It’s not a 40 year-old terminal. It’s a 15 year-old terminal inside a 40 year-old concrete shell (not to be confused with the 80 year-old concrete shell that is City Hall.)
  2. The Mayor’s Airport Task Force asked the Aviation Department to estimate what it would cost to renovate, repair and replace those infrastructure and other needs not addressed in the previous renovation. The number they came back with was less than half the cost of a new terminal and half the cost of this new “renovation.”
  3. This “half-price” option was removed from consideration by task force leaders and was not a choice the task force was given when it came time to make a recommendation.

Since the inside of these recently renovated terminals need very little make-over, how do you run-up a billion in renovation costs? By converting them to single security checkpoint terminals, even though TSA told the task force that our current set-up was better from a security standpoint and that operationally, we would not save money by consolidating. Their only value is to make the renovation option cost-prohibitive and the new terminal option more attractive.

During the recent presentation to the Council the Aviation Department’s consultant told the Council that our security areas were smaller than required and have to be fixed regardless. With all respect to the consultant, I’m inclined to defer to TSA on this one. They not only don’t have a problem with the current footprint but told the task force that in the future, technology was anticipated to make the required footprint smaller, not larger. This is reminiscent of when Aviation Director Mark VanLoh told the task force that we did not have room in the current configuration to add those TSA Pre-Check lanes that somehow managed to show up anyway. Of course he also told us that Allegiant Air would not come to KCI due to our gate issues nor could we attract more international service like that recently announced by American.

The entire KCI issue can be distilled down to two simple questions:

  1. Should we build a new single terminal instead of finishing the renovation we started 15 years ago and are still paying for?
  2. Can we trust the Aviation Department, their paid consultants and city officials with agendas to give us honest information so that we can collectively come up with the best answer to question one?

As long as we can’t rely on the media to ask real questions and pull the spaghetti off the wall, I’d look for more of it and suggest that you and your Councilperson question everything on your own.

Happy New Year!