I’m not sure which is more newsworthy, the fact that Kansas is doing appropriate due diligence on a new airport or the media firestorm that has erupted around it. Even I was interviewed. Twice.
Having recently seen Donald Trump elected President and the New England Patriots come from 25 down in the Super Bowl, I would never say that a Kansas KCI is impossible. However, I would have put money on either of the other two first.
We’ve discussed this possibility here twice in the past 3+ years, most recently following a Steve Rose column in the Star. Here is what you need to remember:
There are two remotely realistic possibilities – Expand New Century or start from scratch. A New Century expansion requires a new terminal and a new runway and extension of at least one other. Cost likely $2-3 billion and at least 10 years away. Of course, takeoffs and landings would be over Falcon Ridge and Cedar Creek developments and their golf courses. Does anyone think THAT is going to happen? It would also lower undeveloped residential property values nearby. Again, not going to happen.
Starting from scratch means finding 8,000-10,000 empty acres in the most expensive county in Kansas that are near a highway and not near an expensive development. The only reasonable possibility at first glance is the old Sunflower Ammo plant, just this side of DeSoto. However there might be EPA issues with that site as well as lack of infrastructure. Starting from scratch means 2-3 runways, plus a terminal, plus support buildings, cargo facilities, etc.. Such a project might be in the $3-5 billion range and be 15 years away – more if there are EPA issues. But you avoid the golfers and make everyone in Lawrence happy. Personally, I’m curious to learn how you make a $2-5 billion project more affordable to the airlines than our $1 billion project. But math was never my best subject.
So how much more convenient would either of these locations be to JoCo travelers? I chose a exceptionally fair location – the Sprint Campus. Travel savings to either were a whole 10 minutes – assuming no traffic. Of course I doubt the designer would use the same design as KCI, so that 10 minutes saved would likely be returned somewhere between the single security checkpoint and long concourses. Moreover there is only one highway to Sunflower. There are two to KCI which is handy if one is blocked.
Perhaps more of an issue though is the current largest customer at Kansas City International Airport (and likely the single largest customer of Southwest at KCI) is Fort Leavenworth. Moving to either of the suggested Kansas locations would DOUBLE their airport commute to an hour each way. I would imagine they would have something to say to the FAA who would have to approve moving KCI to Kansas. I would also imagine that Marriott and the other hotel operators at KCI would have something to say about it. Those jobs don’t move.
Finally, I would think that the guy who headed up the inauguration for the new president under whose purview the FAA falls would have something to say about it. That of course, is Missouri Senator Roy Blunt.
So again, I don’t think there is much of a chance that this ever gets off the ground. (Not my pun.) But it was fun to watch the same city officials who said a year ago that it was time to press the pause button on the conversation, now say it’s time to get our act together.