Having labored an entire year, the airport advisory group that Kansas City Mayor Sly James appointed has brought forth a mouse – a $1.2 billion mouse, but still a mouse. The plan that the Airport Terminal Advisory Group (ATAG) endorsed likely will result in reduced service, higher fares, and greater inconvenience for people flying in and out of Kansas City International Airport (KCI).
Here are five good reasons to reject ATAG’s call for the creation of a new terminal at KCI:
No. 1: It is hugely expensive compared with the alternatives.
The Kansas City Aviation Department has stated that repairs could cost as little as $241 million if only two of the three terminals are repaired ($360 million for all three). That being the case, KCI could perform two major repairs over the next 30 years instead of building a $1.2 billion new terminal and still save hundreds of millions of dollars. The necessary service amenities such as Wi-Fi or electrical outlets can be added at a significantly lower cost and do not justify a new terminal.
No. 2: A new terminal will not bring new flights to KCI.
During ATAG meetings, the airlines and aviation consultants stated that the number of flights a city receives is mostly based on underlying economic factors, not the quality of the airport terminal. Paraphrasing a Southwest Airlines representative, if airport terminals determined air service, no one would ever fly from LaGuardia Airport. Promises of increased business travel or businesses choosing Kansas City based on airport terminals have never been more than anecdotes.
No. 3: The airlines are not happy with the plan.
The Kansas City Aviation Department claims the airlines were consulted, but representatives for the airlines disagree. Last year, Southwest representatives openly complained that the Aviation Department had not consulted with them. At a later ATAG meeting, they warned that the new terminal plan was too expensive and might result in reduced service. Only now, months after debate about the new terminal plan began, have the airlines truly been brought into the decision-making process through a new airport-airline contract signed last month.
No. 4: It will lead to less flights and higher costs to Kansas City residents.
The supporters of the new terminal plan presume that airlines and passengers at other airports will bear the entire cost of building a new terminal, with no consequences for KCI. However, if nothing else, KCI users will immediately pay higher parking fees, part of the new terminal plan. In addition, the idea that costs do not matter for airport service goes against both the warnings of airlines and the experiences of other airports such as Sacramento International Airport and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. A more expensive KCI could certainly see less airline service – in leading to higher landing fees, reduced service, and steeper airfares.
No. 5: Who wants it anyway?
Whether it is the plentiful parking or the short security lines, residents are concerned that the terminals they like are being replaced so they can be corralled into a shopping mall. Groups like Save KCI and others have made their voices heard at both ATAG meetings and through city legislation preventing the demolition of the existing terminals without a public vote.
The new terminal plan proposes to make KCI an expensive, high-debt airport. The plan, if implemented, will risk KCI’s competitiveness without attracting new passengers. The plan was created without the approval of critical stakeholders, the airlines, and without proving that the plan was either necessary or cost-effective. ATAG might not have done its job to ground this irresponsible plan, but residents, who will get to vote on the matter, certainly should.
Joseph Miller is a policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.