When I started this site in 2013, it was not because the idea of a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport was necessarily a horrible one. It was because the reasons given for it were misleading and as was later proven in some cases, untrue. Thus, if the reasons given were not true and presumably those were the best reasons out there and we had to pay a PR firm over $100,000 to try to sell us on the idea, one can conclude that perhaps it WAS a horrible idea. Moreover, my personal use of KCI, as well as that of most everyone I knew, was great. So why not push back and ask the questions that were not being asked?
Here we are now more than 4 years, two aviation committees, multiple airline lease extensions, one petition drive, one new aviation director, one mayoral pause/restart/pause/rewrite/reissue and hundreds of news and blog articles with varying degrees of accuracy later… and not much in the way of conversation content has changed. Both “sides” are still saying pretty much the same thing, speaking in vague generalities that can’t be substantiated, creating bogus numbers, looking for things that support their view and ignoring that which doesn’t, even when they know it’s not right.
This is wrong. We can do better and to the extent that I have contributed to this, I apologize.
We still can’t even agree on the number of gates we currently have. Some are still saying 90 between all three terminals. In fairness, the gate numbers go up to 90 and that may have been an original 1960s concept. A former aviation director said the best we could ever do was low 60s. However, the total number of jet bridges available now between A, B and C, due to renovations and other changes over the years is 47. This number comes from Justin Meyer, Deputy Director of Aviation, and a walking aviation and KCI almanac. And while the physical structure might be able to accommodate a few more, adding them would likely create other issues. And since we only have 31 gates leased now, 47 is a perfectly good number if for no other reason than to remove at least one point of contention.
To Mr. Meyer’s credit, he seems to prefer to deal in facts and numbers. This is a refreshing change from the aviation director when this all began. I was once told by a reporter that he had a reputation among the media for saying whatever he felt like and when called on it, would simply say he was misquoted.
Of course, he was not alone and we’re beginning to see the pie-in-the-sky numbers return from other sources. At a recent town hall it was suggested by one long-time single terminal apologist that there are 12,000 new jobs and huge economic growth riding on it. What are these new jobs? The construction sector is already near or at full-employment so many of those jobs will be filled by out of towners or workers simply moved from other local projects. There will certainly be a greater shortage of workers which could drive up costs for other projects. Has this been estimated yet? We already have an airport that employs hundreds. And some of those jobs in the areas of sky caps, bus drivers, ticket agents, and engineers will actually be lost due to automation and additional terminal parking. Will they be replaced by low-wage restaurant jobs? As far as attracting new businesses to the airport region, I don’t see anything in a new single-terminal to attract a business that does not already exist. Having a new Jack Stack BBQ on the other side of security does not help someone in an office on I-29. So please, itemize those 12,000 new jobs for us and tell us how many new businesses we’ll attract. Be sure it’s a number you are willing to stake your job on.
A group of business organizations have come together under the banner of A Better KCI. This is an attractive and much more polished approach than the former head of the KC Chamber who liked to cite a survey of members showing “overwhelming support” for a new terminal. I personally spoke with several members of the chamber at that time, including someone who claimed to be on a chamber board, and none recalled ever seeing a survey and nearly all of them did not want a single terminal. I’m not saying the survey did not exist, but let’s see it. Likewise we were told then that we had lost conventions due to our airport (independent of not being a major hub with hundreds of non-stops) but none of those could be cited by name nor by quantity of conventioneers.
Here is a screenshot from the Better KCI site:
This reminds me way too much of the vague “trust me it will be great” generalities we heard 4 years ago. You may be 100% correct and we need a single terminal yesterday, but please be specific for those who have been trained these past 4 years to be skeptical of the stated reasons.
How much increased access and to where? The airlines have added several domestic non-stops and at least one international non-stop flight since the 2016 meeting when they said they wouldn’t. Perhaps they’ll indeed add even more with a new terminal. But how many and to where? Even an estimate is better than “build it and they will come.”
Growth and Jobs? Again, be specific per my comments above.
Convenience? I can usually get from the curb to my gate in 5 minutes. Coming home I can be from the airplane door to my home in less time than it takes to get to the baggage claim at some airports. Everyone knows that will go away. Addition of more adjacent terminal parking will certainly cut the time for those in economy parking but at an increased daily price. Better WiFi and electrical can be added now. Other than the Pork and Pickle in the Southwest area, the current dining amenities are rarely if ever maxed-out. So what exactly are you considering when you speak of conveniences and amenities and have you weighted them? I love Jack Stack but for me it’s a fraction of the value of that 5 minute curb to gate.
Regarding security and technology, TSA told the Mayor’s Airport Terminal Advisory Group that our current multiple checkpoint layout spread over a large area afforded security benefits over a single check-point. It’s a smaller soft target and in the case of a breach, the smaller areas are easier to secure and can be done without having to evacuate the entire terminal. In fact, during a Council tour, there was an incident in Terminal C that required such a shut down and it did not impact their tour nor operations in terminal B. It’s been estimated that we were able to save the airlines in B nearly a million dollars in flights that were not cancelled during the shutdown in C. (I would also include that under “convenience” for the many hundreds of Southwest and Delta passengers whose flights were not cancelled.) TSA also told us that next generation technology would be smaller thus requiring less space and that we would not save an appreciable amount of money consolidating as they would not allow us to eliminate more than one or two aisles from what we have now. So how does a single-checkpoint that eliminates the benefits we now enjoy give us stronger security and more modern technology?
Major league status? St. Louis spent a billion dollars on a runway, lost the airline they built it for and have now lost their NFL team. San Diego spent a billion dollars on their airport, is about to spend another two billion and lost their NFL team. The Royals won the World Series and hosted the All-Star game with this airport. Of course, I know you mean something broader and more abstract with the term “major league” but since it is so subjective, please elaborate about the objective benefits. Please remember that after a prospective new citizen or business passes through our “front door” (not as quickly as they do now) they will most likely pass through aging neighborhoods, rail yards, and broken school districts before arriving at their first meeting or home tour.
If you don’t fly, you don’t pay. I agree with this for the most part and frankly I think it’s been blown up as a straw man issue. Most opponents of the single-terminal have not been arguing that it was being paid by tax revenues. They were arguing that the assertion that the “airlines are paying for it” was untrue. The airlines agreed to pay rent, with the option of negotiating a new lease before the bonds were paid off if it was not working out for them. They had the additional option of simply taking their planes elsewhere if they could be more profitable NOT operating under the lease terms. And likewise “taxpayers” do pay for it since most passengers are taxpayers. We’re just not using tax revenues. Some might argue that since the city would no longer be able to borrow from the airport to support its TIF obligations as it has in the past, that could lead to higher taxes to make up the difference. Likewise, increases in parking or other costs to business flyers would most likely be passed down eventually to consumers. However, both of these arguments while true, are relatively small in the overall conversation.
We’ve been having essentially the same conversation for 4 years leading to not much more than increased distrust for “the other guy.” We’re ALL tired of it and again, I apologize for my own contributions. But just like a bank would never loan a business money for vague generalities and unprovable claims, the voters deserve better than blue sky and straw man arguments. Let’s not go down the same road again.