by Deb Hammond
Citizens of all ages from near and far attended Congressman Sam Graves' public forum Monday late afternoon at the Riverside City Hall regarding the future of the Kansas City International Airport located in Platte County.
Graves organized the forum in response to calls to his local field office and Washington, D.C. office from his constituents regarding the lack of public input on the KCI proposals.
Graves, a Republican serving the 6th Congressional District, is a member of the House Subcommittee on Aviation.
Graves gathered community leaders and experts in the aviation field for the public forum. He led the panelists, which included former Congresswoman Pat Danner, KCMO Councilmen John Sharp (6th District) and Scott Wagner (1st District At-Large); John Murphy with Friends of KCI; and Don Hensley of Safe Sky LLC.
“We all know how easy it is to get in and out of Kansas City International Airport and we are lucky to have such a safe and convenient airport," said Graves.
Graves admits there are challenges with the current configuration of the airport and there are issues that need to be addressed. He informed the standing-room only crowd he believes there are better ways to spend $1.2 billion dollars than on constructing a new, single terminal airport that will take away its convenience to its patrons.
The FAA requires airports like KCI to file a new master plan every 10 years. The KCMO Aviation Department has started the process of creating its new master plan for the 40-year-old airport, which has sparked the current debate. Last year, Graves attached a special provision to the FAA reauthorization bill requiring any future master planning for commercial airports must take customer convenience into account.
Concerns of deicing chemical run-off were raised by Parkville resident Vic Allred. Allred suggested closing one of the terminals and reusing it for an environmentally safer way to reclaim the deicing run-off.
Allred shared his longtime experience as a restaurateur with regards for the city's need to upgrade the terminals. “The city needs to do some work on the back of the house. The front of the house looks beautiful, but we have some work, as we say in the hospitality industry, to do on the backside of the house to make it better that would not cost a lot of money.”
Dr. Bill Flynt of Platte City offered his perspective as an international traveler having flown hundreds of international flights in and out of KCI. Flynt also pre-qualified his statement by disclosing he has traveled to every major airport in the United States and said, “There is not a more convenient airport than what we have right now and the way to make it better is not to destroy its greatest strength.”
“I wonder if based on some of the recent events at the Plaza with the gas infrastructure if we would not be better served by taking the 1.2 to 1.5 billion and renovating what we have and making it even better than to try to start anew with something that was never intelligently designed to fit into the existing ecosystem of the airport?” Flynt questioned the panel.
According to Flynt, the airport's greatest strength is its convenience. “This initiative would take that convenience away. We don't have a site plan. We don't have detailed surveys and studies of what advantages would be brought and I really think it is premature and very expensive to propose going through with this.”
John Murphy with the Friends of KCI addressed the issues regarding where the monies for the $1.2 billion would come. “The cost of this airport proposal and the numbers are staggering. When you think about $1.2 billion dollars how you are going to pay for that? Our ridership at the airport is down. Our high is 6 million, with last year 4.8 million and we are trending this year at 4.6 million.”
Murphy, “We have heard this before, 'This is not going to cost you a dime. Don't worry about it.’ The airlines have expressed their concerns about how the cost of the airport reconfiguration will be paid,” Murphy stated. “The only conceivable way they are going to be able to pay for it is to raise fees: apron parking fees, jet way fees, terminal fees, customer origination fees, what they charge rental car companies and raise parking fees. If they cannot raise the money with those fees then it will have to come from the taxpayers.”
Murphy warned the group to not be fooled when proponents say 'This is not going to cost you a dime.' “We have heard this before.” Murphy reminded audience members of the similar promise that was made prior to the development of the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City.
Murphy explained, “Because of the Hancock Amendment, you have to go out and have a vote if you want to raise debt. Put together a lawyer and a few clever financial-types and they will show you how to get around it. What they are trying to do is figure out how to take out a secured lease obligation bond. Basically use the airport as an asset, have a financial institutional hold lien against it and lend the developer money. Then over the next five to 30 years the airport will pay off that note through higher fees.”
The Friends of KCI are trying to see that before the city connects any of the terminals that would raise fees to airlines and patrons, the city would first need to consult with their group in an effort to stop unnecessary fees.
David Napoli of Platte Woods, with 46 years of aviation experience, 29 as a pilot and 16 years as the operations manager of KCI, was the lone proponent to speak in support of the one terminal proposal idea for the KCI Airport Master Plan.
“I have seen many of the short-comings of the three-terminal system at the KCI airport. One shortcoming is getting from terminal to terminal. You have got to ride the blue bus and that is a big expense. In order to get to the parking lots you have to ride the red bus. If they build the parking garage, you will no longer need the buses. But if you cut out the parking lot, you cut the expense by 400-500 million dollars. I think that should be the way to go to start with.”
Napoli said: “I am the lone wolf here. I am for the new terminal. I have seen KCI for many years, the pros and the cons. The maintenance costs for the airport is something else. The cost of operating three separate terminals is horrendous. If you had a central terminal, you would have more places for people to sit and wait. I just went to Chicago Midway and the restaurants were packed, there is a reason for that. Airlines there and in places like Indianapolis schedule connecting flights at those airports. Airlines do not schedule connecting flights at KCI because it is not easy to move passengers from one terminal to another. For instance, if a passenger flies out from terminal B and parks their car in the garage there but returns on a flight to terminal C, it is difficult for them to get to their car.”
Napoli added: “Although it is a great expense, KCI is outdated and will not get any better if you spend a lot of money renovating the terminals if you are not going to update the airport overall. You need to not just look at today but ten, twenty, thirty years from now, and these terminals are going to be very outdated very soon,” Napoli said in closing.
Mr. and Mrs. Jim Steinbrink like the airport. Steinbrink retired from the electronics department at TWA in 1986 and has flown in and out of KCI over the years.
“It is real convenient. I realize that it is expensive for security, but that is the only drawback that I see. I think the rest of the airport is excellent. We have been in a lot of airports around the world,” Steinbrink remarked.