Since planning began for a new Kansas City International airport, passenger traffic has continued to grow. That fact alerted airport designers and city officials they might have shot too low in the airport’s size.
The original plan for one terminal includes 35 gates but airlines that use KCI are now asking that the new terminal be expanded to 39 gates. They have stated they are willing to pay for the additions. If needed the airport could be expanded up to 42 gates.
The airport currently operates 31 leased gates, and those gates aren’t designed for larger, modern aircraft like the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Airbus.
The issue on plane size has not been that the jets are too large to pull up to the gates, it’s that there is literally no room in the boarding areas for 300 passengers either boarding or deplaning while other passengers for other flights are also present in those cramped gate areas.
When traffic estimates were made in 2014, passenger traffic growth was expected to increase at 1.9 percent a year. To the surprise of many, actual growth has been double that meaning the usefulness of the airport and its antiquated security design would be obsolete sooner than later.
The larger airport means the grand opening, originally scheduled for November 2021, will be delayed by a couple months. Neither the city nor airport developer Edgemoor would commit to a new opening date.
Officials said the expanded plans took shape during the last two months, since a divided council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Edgemoor — the first step toward a final development agreement. As initial design work started, the city, Edgemoor and the airlines said they re-examined original assumptions to make sure they were sound.
“We need more gates,” Steve Sisneros, Southwest Airlines’ director of airport affairs, told the City Council at its weekly business session Thursday. “Our gate requirements … are larger than they were two years ago.”
Representatives of United, Delta and American, the other major carriers that use KCI, joined him at the session.
Many area voters continue to be confused by who is actually paying for the airport, and most likely, this new expansion. Taxpayer money will not be used for the new terminal. Edgemoor will finance it. The company will be paid back by revenue from airlines and other airport users.
While hated by many travelers passing through Kansas City, many local flyers still look on the old “three-horseshoe” design with affection. Opened in 1972 with gates just a short walk from the parking curb, it was a convenient design for the times. But that era when men wore suits while flying and women wore hats also included smoking on planes almost non-existent security.
Times have changed.
With additional TSA regulations coming in the next few years, the new airport, when opened, will be out ahead of any additional security needs.