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Airlines Want A Single Terminal KCI, Say It Would Be Cheaper Than Renovating

Julie Denesha
Kansas City's three-terminal airport is antiquated by industry standards. Southwest Airlines wants a new, single-terminal airport.

A Southwest Airlines-led panel looking at the future of Kansas City International Airport says it would be cheaper to rebuild than to renovate the three horseshoe-shaped terminals.

“The major renovation options were coming in significantly over a billion dollars,” Steve Sisneros, director of airport affairs for the airline, said Tuesday after a presentation to the Kansas City Council. “The new terminal options are coming in under.”

Sisneros said he couldn’t get more specific about costs because the figures at this point are preliminary. But the difference is significant enough that the panel won’t pursue two plans that call for renovating the existing airport.

An airport task force also recommended a single terminal KCI (airport code MCI) last spring but at the time estimated it would still be more expensive to rebuild.

Taxpayer dollars won’t be used to rebuild or renovate the 40-year-old airport, but council members still had a lot of feedback for Sisneros’ team.

“We still have the most convenient airport in the country right now,” Councilman Scott Taylor said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t need to make improvements to it, but I don’t think we can lose sight of the fact that’s a consensus the general public would tell you every time.”

Taylor asked Sisneros to go back to a slide looking at renovating the existing terminals. Could the council still get a cost estimate for one of the two plans? he asked. 

Sheri Ernico, the consultant representing the city on the airport project, replied that reconfiguring the old airport isn’t that simple.

“It’s kind of like living in a two-bedroom house when you need four,” said Ernico. “You have a living room that’s three times larger than it needs to be and a one-car garage when you really need a three-car garage.”

Right now, she says KCI has too much room outside security and too few amenities beyond the gate.  

“What I’m interested in hearing, given that you all are well-traveled individuals, your own personal opinion traveling to and from KCI,” Councilman Jermaine Reed said.

After thinking about it for a minute, Sisneros said he’d spent six hours at KCI a few years ago when weather delayed his trip home after a friend’s wedding.

“With all due respect, it’s not the best airport to spend six hours on the ground,” Sisneros said. “I felt trapped.”

A final recommendation is expected by May 2016.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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