KCI redo

The design of Kansas City International Airport may be convenient for passengers, but that no longer is the priority for the airline industry or Homeland Security.

Earlier this week, Kansas City, Mo.’s aviation director and some architects involved in designing the three-terminal Kansas City International Airport got together to discuss plans to make major alterations to the airport that has been hailed for its passenger-friendly features.

The consensus of the group is that, although the airport that opened in 1972 is convenient for passengers, this is “another era,” and changes are required. Aviation director Mark VanLoh recognized the appeal of the “drive to your gate” concept, which was adopted by a number of other airports, but also acknowledged that passenger comfort no longer is a priority for airlines or for Homeland Security.

This statement comes as no surprise to any recent airline passenger.

Two architects who worked for the firm that originally designed KCI confirmed the view that the airport’s innovative design was no longer workable in light of airline consolidations and modern security concerns. Fewer airlines means that some of KCI’s terminals are overcrowded while others are nearly empty. VanLoh claimed that because of KCI’s many security entry points, it has more airport screeners than all three New York airports combined.

The first plan to solve this problem was to replace KCI with a new structure at a nearby location at a cost of $1.5 billion to $2 billion. Now, airport planners are looking at replacing the current Terminal A with a larger structure that would accommodate all of KCI’s flights. They estimate the latter plan would save about $500 million and would allow a new terminal to be built in about five years rather than seven or eight.

Although Lawrence residents are big users of KCI, they will have no say in its future design, which must be approved by the Kansas City (Mo.) City Council, airlines and federal aviation officials. Nonetheless, travelers from Lawrence and elsewhere will help foot the bill for a new terminal, which would be paid for by the airlines and by taxes and fees paid by airline customers. So close to the 4th of July, it sort of makes one think of the phrase about “taxation without representation.”

No matter how much passengers liked the design of KCI, change now seems inevitable. One of the architects who helped design KCI said last week that the city should look at this as “a new opportunity” to create another iconic building, like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The Kauffman Center is a lovely structure, well-suited to its artistic mission, but the last thing most travelers probably want is an airport design that emphasizes form over function. According to news reports, airport officials have pledged to select an architect to design a terminal that would be as convenient as the current KCI. It seems a tall order, but we hope they are successful.