The Emperor’s New Airport
At a recent Kansas City Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, Aviation Department Director Mark VanLoh walked the committee through a slide show featuring lots of exciting computer graphics of an airport that does not exist and likely never will. VanLoh said the images were merely “conceptual;” no architect is bound by them. Yet several news outlets have picked them up to illustrate what the proposed terminal could look like. This future airport is as real as the fabled emperor’s new clothes.
Why is fanciful airport art an issue? Kansas City officials argue that we need a shiny new terminal because we are losing market share to other airports in the region, such as Branson, Mo., and Wichita, Kan.
On KCPT’s Week in Review program (comments begin at 5:07), Scott Parks of KMBZ 98.1, in a courageous act of honesty, questions the whole concept of a city “losing flights” to another city. He says:
Maybe I struggle against this panel mentally. I don’t understand how Kansas City is losing flights. Airlines are a business. If people want to fly to Kansas City for business, for pleasure, to visit family, whatever, they’re going to fly to Kansas City. I heard the argument this week that we’re losing flights to Columbia, we’re losing flights to Branson, we’re losing flights to Wichita. Well if I live in Seattle and I have family that lives in Kansas City, I’m not flying to Wichita and then driving three hours to Kansas City. I don’t understand how flights that were supposed to be coming to Kansas City are now going to Wichita or Branson.
The conversation immediately moved to the cost of security and Kansas City International Airport (MCI); no one addressed Parks’ concern.
Just like the old ministers in Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Parks states the obvious — doing so almost apologetically. But he is exactly right. If proponents want to argue that the airport is unattractive as a hub — a place where people make connections to other flights but not itself a destination — a shiny new terminal will not address that problem. It will only exacerbate the problem if it results in higher costs to airlines who are already being lured elsewhere with cash.
Week in Review was rife with those same slick computer-generated images that were shown at the transportation committee meeting. Those images are meant to appeal to emotions. The Kansas City Star reported that the aviation department has contracted with an outside public relations firm for $117,000. Are presentations to the Kansas City Council and the public already focused on selling slick and colorful images rather than answering substantive questions? The city council’s committee hearing suggests the answer is “yes.”
Kansas City Mayor Sly James has called for an “adult discussion about the facts,” and that is good. But he and others on the City Council have yet to make their case that the Emperor is not naked.