WHAT OTHERS SAY: Changes up in the air for Kansas City airport

Saturday, February 1, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

In crucial testimony this week, key members of the region’s business community made it clear they support a more modern Kansas City International Airport.

The 4-decade-old KCI terminals and much of their amenities essentially have become worn-out welcome mats that corporate leaders — and potential employees — see when they come here.

The testimony came on the same day that Frasca & Associates, transportation consultants studying the airport's future, offered a report that contained valid reasons to keep looking at major upgrades to the facility, which could include a single terminal.

Frasca provided the report to the citizens commission that is scheduled to make a recommendation in April about what to do at KCI. The report challenged some concerns that airlines serving the airport presented to the commission earlier this month.

Among the noteworthy points made in the consultant’s report:

  • Airlines say they are pinching pennies and closely evaluating expansion of service, including at KCI, in a challenging economy. But Frasca noted that airlines “are now experiencing record profits,” partly because of add-on charges at some airlines for checked baggage, preferred seating and in-flight food.
  • Southwest Airlines officials said route decisions are made based on passenger demand, availability of gates and profitability. But the consultants said population and economic growth can drive new service. And they said “a new or expanded terminal can address certain deficiencies and open up new air service opportunities,” such as adding passenger inspection stations and other amenities that could attract bigger planes to KCI and more international routes.
  • Southwest indicated KCI doesn’t need to add capacity with more gates now or even in the next 10 years. Frasca noted that just having the right number of gates isn’t enough; KCI’s current setup prevents easy improvement to essentials including security checkpoints, passenger areas and public space such as restrooms.
  • The airlines said imposing higher costs on them might cut the number of KCI’s flights. Frasca said that at its Feb. 11 presentation to the citizens group, it will include benchmarking that shows the relationship between airline costs and airfares before and after recent terminal improvements at other U.S. airports.

As Frasca pointed out, even though costs at a new KCI could go up, airlines could benefit from more efficient operations there.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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