2016 was a year of mixed signals regarding the ongoing discussion concerning the future of Kansas City International Airport. In other words, it was just like 2015, 2014, 2013…
Southwest Airlines executives and TSA flip-flopped from their “Keep KCI the way it is” opinions given to the mayor’s KCI task force in 2014. Not surprisingly, no one in the media (other than here) questioned why. Yet, the single-terminal initiative still belly-flopped as the mayor pulled the plug due to insurmountable public opinion against it. Multiple airlines said they could not and would not expand KCI without a new terminal – and then proceeded to add several new non-stop routes to both domestic and international destinations. Mark VanLoh “retired” in his mid 50s as both Director of Aviation and official single-terminal lightning rod and is now consulting. Infrastructure improvements previously said to be undoable are now being done by his replacement, Pat Klein, a man with no previous aviation management experience but lots of experience in City Hall.
Traffic at KCI continued to grow every month and is finally approaching levels enjoyed before the 2008 economic crash. During that peak year of 2007, KCI operated out of three terminals. For the past three years though, and for questionable reasons, operations have been squeezed into two. And while this has created higher than necessary crowding during peak times, of the kind seen at other airports, KCI continues to be the model of convenience travelers love – even during the recent holiday rush as reported here.
Looking ahead to 2017, it’s important to increase the transparency regarding KCI. Terminal A will have been mothballed for three years in January. When was the last time the City Council and the public were allowed in to see how this important city asset has been cared for? As traffic continues to increase in 2017, we may need it back online before we agree on the best long-term plan for KCI.
It’s also clear that City Hall recognizes that they’ve lost credibility on this issue. The city’s main PR tool, the tax-abated Kansas City Star, seems to be attempting to pivot the conversation by portraying “the business community” as the new lead cheerleader for a single-terminal. Interestingly, nearly every business traveller I’ve spoken with is against a single-terminal. The former head of the KC Chamber claimed the opposite to the mayor’s task force citing a member survey. But I could not find a single chamber member who recalled even seeing a survey including a banker who claimed to be on the chamber board. If such a survey exists, where is it? It certainly didn’t agree with the polling the mayor did last year before he pulled the plug.
If we are going to successfully move this conversation toward a solution satisfactory to airlines, passengers, investors and voters, we need to make 2017 the year that the smoke, mirrors, egos and hidden agendas give way to honest and open win-win dialog.