KCI’s Overly Optimistic Estimates – Part 2
At the Sept. 10 Kansas City Airport Terminal Advisory Group meeting, airport Chief Financial Officer John Green presented a financial analysis which included as part of the Key Assumptions for Projections (page 5) a 2 percent growth in passenger enplanements (the number of people boarding the plane).
But recent passenger numbers fly in the face of that. In 2012, total enplanements were down 4 percent from 2011. And 2013 numbers so far are down more than 3 percent from 2012. I recall Green saying to the advisory group that the Aviation Department predicts a growth in passenger traffic of 2.8 percent for 2013. So far, that appears to be wildly optimistic. Way back on July 11, the Show-Me Institute’s Joe Miller wrote:
The determination of some Kansas City officials to construct a new $1.2 billion terminal at Kansas City International Airport (MCI) is based on optimistic projections. Not only do their projections fly in the face of aviation industry trends in the last decade, they don’t even conform with the airport’s own 2012 financial report.
The Kansas City Aviation Department originally used 2006 baseline estimates to justify new terminal specifications. Back then, they predicted 2.8 percent growth in enplanements (the number of people boarding the airplane) from 2006 onward. But they were wrong, and eventually had to revise the projected growth down to 1.9 percent. The growth of passengers in the last decade has fallen even further, to 0.01 percent. This slide in growth started before the financial crisis. Even including the booming 1990s, total growth averaged a meager 1.9 percent from 1991 to 2012.
Those aren’t the only optimistic numbers among the key assumptions. The Aviation Department appears to have lowballed its 3 percent estimation of escalation, a euphemism for cost overruns. According to a February 2009 report from the Airports Council International – North America aimed specifically at estimating airports’ capital development costs, escalation has averaged 7 percent and has been as high as 11 percent.
Recent construction cost escalation has clearly impacted airport development costs. ACI-NA surveyed respondents about their experiences with increasing construction costs. As shown in Table 2, nearly 60 percent of all respondents to this question reported an increase of greater than five percent for development projects recently bid or re-estimated, with an average of 7% increases for the 45 reporting airports; over one-fifth reported an above 10 percent increase. These increases are well above the general inflation rate of 2.8 per cent. FAA also reported in its latest NPIAS report that “construction costs have increased approximately 11 percent” for the past two years, “due in large part to increases in materials and labor.”
Green took pains to state that these assumptions, which amount to predicting the future, are difficult to make. No one doubts this. In some cases, the estimates are conservative, such as an assumption that the interest rate will be 6 percent. But on important matters such as passenger traffic and cost overruns, the people of Kansas City are likely skeptical, and right to be.