Up In The Air
7:38 am
Tue July 2, 2013

Who Decides The Future Of KCI?

Kansas City International Airport is looking at a potentially major change-- tearing down the current three terminals and moving to a single, new terminal.  

Kansas City International Airport proposes to replace the current three-terminal layout with a new single terminal
Kansas City International Airport proposes to replace the current three-terminal layout with a new single terminal
Credit Landrum & Brown / Kansas City Aviation Department

The one terminal idea came to a head in 2008 when the Master Plan called for a new, central terminal south of the current airport.  That came just 4 years after the airport wrapped up nearly $260 million in renovations.

In April, the Kansas City, Mo. City Council approved an update to the master plan, unveiling an image of a new terminal building on the site of what’s now terminal A.  That’s when the public outcry started.  

Many Kansas Citians love KCI’s layout, pointing to how easy it is to get in and out of the airport.  

Kansas City Mayor Sly James quickly named an advisory group about the airport.  James says the panel has to answer two questions.

Terminal B and C at Kansas City International Airport.
Terminal B and C at Kansas City International Airport.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR

"Is KCI as it is currently configured the best airport for residents and visitors of this city?” asks James. 

“Second, if it’s not, what are the options for an airport that will serve this airport for future generations?”

The city’s plan for the airport is on hold until the advisory group wraps up its work.  However, that’s far from the only group looking over the proposal.  

The FAA for one is making its own assessment, looking at how much it will cost, how it will be paid for and how it will affect the environment.  FAA approval is needed because technically every commercial airport in the country belongs to the federal government.  

Kansas City Aviation director Mark VanLoh says the FAA has to sign off on any construction.

“Everything we do on an airport has to be approved by the FAA.  If I want to build a hangar or new road, it has to be approved by the FAA,” says VanLoh.  “They pay for a majority of what we do on an airport, so obviously the person with the most money wins.”

The FAA needs to sign off on the city’s tentative plan but a slew of other agencies such as the Homeland Security Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency also get a say.  But no agency can demand the city must build a single terminal.  In fact VanLoh says the design is ultimately up to the city.

“The simple answer is Kansas City,” says VanLoh.  “Kansas City is in charge.”

The group Friends of KCI wants to make sure the decisions aren't left to politicians in City Hall but to the voters. The group’s leader John Murphy says citizens need more of a say in the process.

“It’s our money.  It’s our government,” says Murphy.  “They work for us--not the other way around. It seems lately that local officials just seem to look at us as open, blank check book.”

The group is gathering signatures on an initiative petition that would change city code to require a public vote for any demolition or construction of an airport terminal.

Even if the initiative petition doesn’t make it to the ballot, Kansas City voters may have the final say on the $1.2 billion terminal in the form of a bond vote.  

Aviation bonds, though they would be paid for by various fees at the airport, require approval from the voters.