With a plan scheduled to be presented to the Kansas City Council next month, an official from Kansas City International Airport gave area civic and business leaders a look at a proposal for the new KCI.
Mark VanLoh, aviation director for KCI, told those in the audience at the Leavenworth County Development Corporation’s annual meeting Friday at the Riverfront Community Center that KCI’s three terminals and other design features were out of date almost as soon as the facility as it now stands opened in 1972, partially because of additional security measures required following a spate of hijackings in the 1970s. Changing security requirements continue to be a problem for KCI, VanLoh said.
“Almost every bag at KCI in the morning rush hour has to be physically inspected by a human being because the systems underneath the terminal floors just can’t handle all those bags at once, at least for you to make your flight,” he said. “That’s a problem.”
But that shortcoming is only one on a laundry list of reasons that in 1996 KCI’s leaders began to formulate a plan for a new airport. Consolidation and bankruptcies in various airlines have left some terminals all but empty throughout the day and others crowded, at times to the point of blocking the narrow concourses. As a result of the shortcomings, including an inability for the smaller terminals to handle the volume of bags from the biggest airlines, VanLoh said Kansas City is losing — to its nearest competitor in St. Louis, for one, but also to places like San Antonio, Texas.
“San Antonio Airport is becoming an international gateway to Mexico, something Kansas City probably should have been,” he said. “We have a beautiful customs facility, but it can only handle one airplane at a time.”
And there are environmental issues —disposing all of the de-icing fluid sprayed on planes at night is also a challenge, with about a third of that fluid currently ending up in a lake on the property.
A new airport is of no small consequence for Leavenworth County. Steve Jack, executive director of LCDC, said last year 11,000 outbound tickets were purchased for KCI by Fort Leavenworth, to say nothing of the civilians and residents who also fly in and out of the facility.
The plan, VanLoh said, is to move the airlines remaining in Terminal A into the other two. Terminal A would then be torn down to build a central terminal in that same footprint at an estimated cost of about $1 billion, using airport revenue bonds that the aviation department is authorized to issue.
The new terminal as proposed would have 37 gates instead of the current 90. The reason KCI can afford to get smaller like that, VanLoh said, is because those gates would not be assigned to specific airlines.
Page 2 of 2 - “In the future, anyone can use the terminal at any time,” he said.
The centralized terminal will also allow for streamlined security processing, more accessible concessions and would allow KCI to integrate some of the newest technologies, like bag tags with embedded chips that can send travelers mobile notifications when their bag makes it on the plane, check-in kiosks allowing travelers to check their bags and scan their passport without having to speak to an attendant or the latest three-tier security scanner system.
In terms of timeframe, VanLoh said the construction would take two years. He said the hope to have the entire project complete before the end of the decade.
“Five years is our goal and we want to stick to that,” he said.