KANSAS CITY — Replacing Kansas City International Airport's three terminals with a single building may soon make the jump from idea to future reality.
Airport officials and a consultant recently conducted the last of a series of public discussions on the 36-year-old airport and its long-range plan. They said they still support building a single terminal building south of the east-west runway that would have a central security checkpoint, space for restaurants and shops and four wings for gates.
Those recommendations will likely be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration this month, said Russ Blanck with the consulting firm Landrum & Brown.
When the changes will be made is unknown as the FAA will probably take months to approve the new long-range plan and "nothing goes forward" until the Kansas City Council checks off on the changes, Blanck said.
Landrum & Brown has pushed the single-terminal plan since shortly after the city hired the firm to update the airport's master plan. Consultants say a single terminal is cheaper to operate and more attractive to carriers looking to make the airport a regional or national hub.
Even under optimum conditions, it could take decades before the airport's three terminals are replaced, Blanck said, noting that initial estimates called for big changes at the airport not starting for 15 to 20 years.
"But it could be five to 10 years beyond that with the state of the airline industry," he said, noting that industry demand would drive those changes. "The big thing is just to get a plan out there so we have the land (for new construction) reserved."
Airport officials said the city is still paying off bonds voters approved in 2000 for airport improvements, so city leaders would likely have to wait about 20 years before they could issue new bonds for building the new terminal.
During that time, a change in leadership on the City Council or in the aviation department could lead to a completely different vision of MCI's future.
"Politics drive a lot of what you do at the airport," Blanck said.
Frequent traveler Tracy Cavanaugh, 42, of Blue Springs, said she was glad to hear airport changes are probably far off, saying she favors the short lines and easy access to ticketing and gates in the three terminals.
"It may be different to many people," she said, "but in all of my travels, it's still the easiest airport to find your way around in."
The consultants said that while the airport is more convenient in many respects, it still suffers from some flaws, such as having three times the amount of maintenance and security cost, too little space for new and larger security equipment and not enough retail and restaurant space.
Also, future planes will likely be bigger and need larger taxiways, and, if air travel increases in the future, carriers could run out of room, forcing passengers to change terminals to reach connecting flights.
Only 6.2 percent of the almost 11.3 million people who traveled through the airport last year were there to catch a connecting flight, officials said.
Consultants considered other options, including a design that kept the three terminals but added a central security checkpoint and a people-moving system between the terminals. The single terminal design, however, still scored highest.
FAA officials require commercial airports to update their master plans every 10 years.