Ambitious New Kansas City Airport Hits Another Snag
The current state of the airport serving Missouri's second largest metropolitan area is quite dismal, to say the least. Kansas City International Airport (MCI) serves just over 11 million passengers per year and serves a metropolitan area of around 2 million. By no means a large airport, Kansas City International Airport still sees a substantial number of connecting passengers thanks to Southwest Airlines. Even without connecting passengers, Kansas City International Airport is quite inadequate with the original three horseshoe terminals constructed in the late 1960s.
After 2006 renovations failed to address to glaring inadequacies and security concerns, Kansas City voters in 2017 voted in favor of a brand new single, unified terminal. The Kansas City City Council initially approved a $964 million plan to build a brand new airport at the current site. Now, contractors and construction partners are estimating costs potentially exceeding $1.6 billion and delays that could exceed a year. In addition to costs nearly doubling and delays, two airlines are protesting the construction project.
Spirit and Allegiant Disapprove of the Brand New KC Airport
The Kansas City Star reported that two of the airport's tenants, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, sent a letter to the Kansas City City Council expressing each airline's concerns regarding the new terminal. The main concern the two airlines had surrounding the new terminal was not only the $1.6 billion price tag, but also how airlines would pay for the new terminal.
Kansas City voters approved a project that would be paid for by the airlines that serve the airport, not taxpayers. Though airlines did not object to the initial plan (~$960 million), the new $1.6 billion master plan has raised questions for airlines. Among construction costs that were mentioned in the letter from the two airlines were how airlines would pay for the $20+ million baggage system.
In a statement to the Kansas City Star, a Spirit Airlines executive said, "We believe the current investment proposal is simply ... too costly for smaller new entrant carriers to bear and still deliver the value that we deliver to the community in terms of low airfares." Both Allegiant and Spirit stated that they believe Kansas City is in need of upgraded terminal facilities.
The agreement between the city and the airport's tenants is still under negotiation. Allegiant Air's VP of Airports and Government Affairs Keith Hansen expressed concern that larger airlines at the airport expected smaller airlines like Allegiant and Spirit to pay more than is necessary.
While the objections from the two budget carriers are most likely far from the final nail in the coffin for the ambitious new airport project, it presents yet another variable that will need to be addressed moving forward. The far more significant barrier for the KC Airport project is the rising costs and delays.
The new Kansas City airport terminal would consist of two modern airside concourses accessible from a single main atrium. The airport would feature 42 gates expandable to 50 gates should additional gates be needed in the future. The project also includes a new parking structure.
For many, the new Kansas City International Airport project might not seem very relevant, however, a new development from Southwest Airlines has raised the stakes for the city and passengers. According to the Kansas City Business Journal, a new modern airport terminal at Kansas City International Airport would serve as the airline's perfect new mid-continent hub. If Southwest Airlines were to move to a newly constructed Kansas City International Airport terminal, passengers from across the Midwest who normally connect via Chicago-Midway (MDW) or St. Louis-Lambert International Airport (STL) would likely connect through Kansas City.
As of the Kansas City Star's report on Allegiant and Spirit's objection to the project, construction was still slated to begin sometime in 2019.