Not all delays at airports are bad news.
Hopefully, the leaders behind a $1.2 billion proposal to revamp Kansas City International Airport will take time to allow more voices to be heard after an executive with Southwest Airlines expressed concerns with the KCI plans.
According to Kansas City news reports, an executive vice president with Southwest Airlines — the largest airline to operate at KCI — recently estimated the terminal project would nearly triple the airline’s operating costs in Kansas City.
Southwest operates 40 percent of all the flights at KCI, so concerns from Southwest should be taken seriously. KCI is a key piece of the regional infrastructure, and changes at the airport are sure to affect travelers and businesses in a broad area, including Lawrence.
The KCI proposal — which would scrap the current three-terminal system and replace it with a single terminal — is far from a done deal. But it is disconcerting that the proposal has moved as far as it has without more input from the largest commercial airline operating at KCI.
It raises the question of whether KCI leaders have done enough outreach as they try to convince a largely skeptical community that something is broken with KCI’s current configuration.
The Southwest executive was quoted as saying he believes the only rationale for revamping the airport is a desire to provide greater amenities. He said Southwest has seen nothing that indicates current runway or gate capacities are under pressure at KCI.
More amenities at KCI would be nice, but not if the project forces airlines to raise their ticket prices— or worse, reduce flight offerings — in order to pay for the KCI improvements.
A task force established by the Kansas City, Mo., mayor’s office hopes to make a recommendation on the project by April. It seems there are a multitude of questions that need to be answered before then.
Local economic development professionals should keep the potential changes at KCI on their radar screens. A viable major airport will play an important role in attracting future businesses, tourists and residents to the region.
It is unlikely that Lawrence or the other regional communities that rely on KCI will have much of a voice in the process. But the major airlines that serve KCI should, and airport officials should slow down enough to listen to them.