For the time being, it seems that plans to tear down Kansas City International Airport (MCI) and build a $1.2 billion new terminal have been shelved. Public polling indicated that about 60% of city voters, whose approval was required for a bond issuance, remained opposed.
Supporters of a new terminal lamented this pause and argued that voters were not sufficiently informed of what was before them. Some even propose a more aggressive public education campaign. Sadly, this is what serious policy discussions often come down to—not thoughtful exchanges of ideas, but rather an uncompromising proposal stubbornly marketed and shouted in various ways at a busy public. And if they still don’t agree . . . shout louder!
In fact, after years of public debate, voters in Kansas City (and everyone who uses the airport) knew exactly what was being asked of them. Few issues have been discussed in more or at greater length than the airport. There have been numerous public meetings, TV and radio segments, and print news articles on the matter. A group of citizens even collected signatures to make sure the public had a vote. The public knew exactly what was being proposed.
Because MCI is a cheap airport for airlines to serve, we get more service. We have more direct flights than other markets our size. American Airlines and Southwest continue to expand service and in recent years we’ve attracted additional smaller discount airlines such as Allegiant and Spirit. These are not warning signs of a failing airport.
There are risks to taking on big builds. In Sacramento, San Jose, and Cincinnati, localities invested heavily in new airports. They increased airline fees to pay down the debt and saw airline service decline. This is a simple enough economic reality: when you charge more for something, you sell less of it. It really is that simple. Any effort to improve MCI must make sure that we retain our competitive advantage: a cheap and convenient airport.
Those in St. Joseph and across the region have a stake in the matter, but they won’t have a vote. Frequent travelers would be well served to make sure their friends in Kansas City are educated on the benefits and risks of a new terminal.