A record was set for September passenger traffic at Missouri’s second busiest airport in Kansas City.
Kansas City International, also known as KCI, is the 40th busiest airport in the country and is listed as a Medium Hub Primary by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as is St. Louis Lambert International, which ranks 32nd in passenger traffic.
Passenger boardings were up 4.1 percent, with a total of 477,339 boarded in September from a year earlier. Year-to-date passenger boardings are 4,430,552, up 2.8 percent from 2017, which was the third busiest in the airport terminal’s history. There are boardings for October, November, and December that are yet to be counted to see if last year’s total of 5,628,573 can be topped. The two busiest years in the KCI’s history were 2001 and 1995.
KCI spokesperson Joe McBride says the increased traffic is a reflection of strong economic activity in the Kansas City area. “It’s definitely good for the airport,” said McBride. “It’s good for the economy. People are coming and going for business. Conventions are looking up. It bodes well.”
Outside of the 30 busiest airports which are categorized as Large Hub Primary by the FAA, McBribe says airlines have gone to a system of point-to-point service and limited connections in growing markets such as Kansas City. “It’s flights throughout the day, but also the ability to connect, so the best of both worlds really, where we can build on that point-to-point service but also give people the option of connecting,” McBride said. “You could call it a mini-hub if you will.”
KCI is serviced by 11 airlines that fly to about 46 nonstop destinations daily through 174 daily departures. Like in St. Louis, the largest carrier in Kansas City is Southwest Airlines which accounts for nearly half of all boarding’s. Southwest handles 49.5% of the traffic through the airport terminal followed by Delta at 17.1%, American at 14% and United with 10.1%. Carriers such as Air Canada, Alaska, and Frontier also offer daily service to their own hub cities from KCI.
McBride says Kansas City draws travelers from as far as two hundred miles away including cities like Des Moines, Iowa, Wichita, Kansas, and Springfield that offer fewer destinations and higher fares. “They don’t have as many non-stops or perhaps the airfares are higher where it warrants traveling about two to three hours to Kansas City to fly, especially if you have a number of people flying in a family,” said McBride.
Kansas City will soon have the only non-stop service to European waters through Icelandair, which offers seasonal service to Iceland. Budget carrier WOW Air will cease operations to the same country from St. Louis after January 7th. WOW only began serving St. Louis May 17th.
McBride says Icelandair gives travelers the option of laying over several days in Iceland before connecting to flights bound for continental Europe. “They call it an Iceland Stayover, where you can stop, get off, stay a few days, get back on the plane and go to Europe and it doesn’t cost anything additional,” McBride said.
Pat Klein, Director of the City of Kansas City Aviation Department, which runs KCI, said the newly announced passenger boarding statistics bode well for a new terminal which will break ground in 2019. “September’s historic result is the culmination of 12 consecutive months of year-over-year gains at Kansas City International Airport,” said Klein. “With the continued expansion of service by our airline partners and construction of a new single terminal set to kick off soon, Kansas City’s air travel future is extremely bright.”
Kansas City voters approved a November ballot measure for a new KCI terminal. The plan calls for a $1 billion project to replace the existing structure with funds paid for by airlines and user fees, not tax dollars. The ballot measure’s passage caps six-plus years of fits and stops and political wrangling within the city over a facility considered to be obsolete in some circles.
Spokesperson McBride said the new terminal will have slightly fewer gates than the current structure, 42 versus roughly 50 now, but will handle a larger volume of aircraft and passengers. “It’ll be more efficient for the airlines where they can move more flights and passengers in and out through the facility,” McBride said.
The city had spent $1.7 million on a study to explore options for a new airport. Maryland-based firm Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate will move forward with development and construction of the new terminal.