Terminal Shopping In Kansas City
During the Christmas season, some shoppers may be tempted to take advantage of holiday deals to upgrade their home entertainment systems with a new T.V. or surround sound speakers. However, despite the impulse to go on a spending spree, most people think twice and prioritize needs over wants. What is common sense for most people is good advice for Kansas City as it considers spending $1.2 billion on building a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport (KCI).
Unfortunately for the people of Kansas City, they do not have nearly as many choices in new airport terminals as they do for a new television. The Kansas City Aviation Department has presented the city and its residents with a $1.2 billion single-terminal plan, the only alternative being to remain with the current three-terminal design that needs expensive repairs in the future. The federal government is unlikely to provide much aid to Kansas City for the new terminal, meaning that the Aviation Department will have to take on significant debt to pay for the project. Although Aviation Department officials claim that only the airport and its creditors will be repaying the bonds, that is only half the story. The airport must repay its debt with increased costs to airlines and passengers. Higher costs for airlines may result in reduced airline service or higher ticket prices. Higher fees for parking already are built into the new terminal plan. Furthermore, if Kansas City’s airport were to encounter difficulty repaying the bonds, does anyone think the city could or would stand by and let the airport default? With the price tag in mind, it is important for Kansas City residents to know what a new terminal will and will not provide.
The new terminal is not designed to increase flight capacity or gates. The proposed terminal will start with approximately 36 gates compared to the current 62. The airport does not use all the gates it has now, and by the Aviation Department’s own estimates, flight volume will increase at less than 1 percent per year. If anything, the new airport terminal plan calls for downsizing and consolidating operations, not increasing capacity or making Kansas City a hub airport.
So, if the new terminal is not designed to accommodate more flights, why build it? The Aviation Department claims that benefits include centralized security lines, more places to buy goods and services inside security, reduced maintenance costs, and new de-icing pads for the runways. The Aviation Department adds that the current terminal is structurally obsolete, and requires extensive repairs if it remains in use.
The question before Kansas City residents is whether the benefits of the new terminal plan justify both the high cost of the project and the demolition of an airport that many residents find convenient. Those residents may be on to something, as J.D. Power & Associates rated KCI highest in passenger satisfaction among medium-sized airports in 2010. They may decide, like Southwest Airline’s Executive Vice President Ron Ricks, that the new terminal plan’s only rationale is “to provide more customer-service amenities” and that if a replacement is necessary, “We’re confident we could come up with something for the community at a much lower cost than what’s being presented here.” Residents may decide it just does not add up, and keep on shopping, if the Aviation Department will allow them the opportunity.
Joseph Miller is a policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.