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City Steps Up Efforts to Land Trans-Atlantic Air Service at KCI, Invites Johnson County to the Design Party

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(Updated to include time and location of Johnson County community design meeting. It will be Dec. 12 from 6- to 7:30 p.m. at the KU Edwards Campus, 12600 S. Quivera Rd. in Overland Park)

By Kevin Collison

KCI is broadening its horizons, stepping up efforts to attract international air service and hosting a community design meeting for the new terminal in Johnson County after all.

Pat Klein, city director of aviation, told the Economic Development Corp. Advocacy Committee Monday a small team is traveling to Europe next month to meet with an undisclosed airline about providing trans-Atlantic international service for KCI.

Kansas City is now the largest market in the U.S. without trans-Atlantic service. Klein estimated 300- to 350 people leave Kansas City daily on trans-Atlantic trips.

To help make its case, a $10.5 million renovation project to upgrade the existing KCI international facilities and make them more efficient has been approved by the Kansas City Council.

The project, which is expected to be completed by late next spring, will reconfigure Gates 87-90 in Terminal C to improve security inspections, expand the holding area and improve luggage handling.

Klein said even though the renovation is occurring at a terminal scheduled to be closed in four years, it could pay off quickly and lay the groundwork for continuing the service at the new terminal.

Last summer, WOW Air, an Icelandic airline, considered Kansas City for trans-Atlantic flights. The airline instead chose St. Louis for its four-time weekly service beginning next year, but will reconsider Kansas City in 2019 or 2020.

In making its case to the Council, the airport estimated that a four-times weekly service like WOW is introducing in St. Louis would generate an annual $11.7 million economic impact, making it cost effective to do the renovation project.

A more ambitious, seven-times weekly service with larger aircraft could generate $194.1 million annual economic impact.

On the metro front, Klein said at least one design meeting will be held in Johnson County, with potentially more depending on the interest. (See update above for details)

“It’s a regional asset and it makes sense to get regional input,” Klein says.

Previously, the city and the Edgemoor Team, the terminal developer, had only planned to hold community design meetings for the new terminal in each of the six City Council Districts beginning Nov. 29 through Dec. 14.

But with Johnson County supplying one-third of the local KCI passengers vs 20 percent from the city, the decision to host at least one meeting outside the city was made to recognize its regional importance, Klein told the EDC meeting.

Airport officials say a new terminal could be larger than currently planned if demand merits it.

While city the owns and runs Kansas City International, and city voters overwhelmingly approved a new terminal earlier this month, the revenues paying for the new, $1 billion terminal will come from all passengers and the airlines.

Overall, about 50.2 percent of local KCI passengers are from Kansas, 43.5 percent Missouri, and the remainder from Nebraska and Iowa, according to airport stats for the first half of 2017.

Construction is expected to begin next summer with completion in late 2021.

Klein also said the terminal size, which was estimated at 750,000 square feet, could expand if the planning process demonstrates the need.

Indianapolis, which has a similar passenger load to Kansas City, built a 1.2 million square-foot terminal in 2008.

“Indianapolis is at the top of the game customer service wise…but we don’t want to overbuild,” Klein says.

Finally, Klein told the EDC meeting that changes to the tax law being considered by Congress could add $6 million to $12 million per year in construction costs by eliminating the city’s ability to issue non-taxable bonds.

Last week, Mayor Sly James issued a press release saying the proposed elimination of what are called Private Activity Bonds would “cripple” future investments by the city.

Gates 87-90 in Terminal C will be renovated to provide better international service.

The $10.5 million renovation of the international gates at Terminal C is expected to be completed by late spring 2018.

This article appeared originally on the KCUR public radio website.

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