By Ian McMurtry
Kansas City Preaches Flexibility, Adaptability As NewKCI Rises
26 days – that’s all that Kansas City International Airport’s existing structure was able to last before being deemed outdated due to the overwhelming changes that brought forward security screening and increased safety measures to the industry in 1972. Now, with the old structure on the way out and a new complex rising on top of the old Concourse A, AirlineGeeks was given the opportunity to interview both Justin Meyer, the Deputy Director of Aviation in Kansas City, and Dan Moylan, Senior Development Manager of Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, to discuss the concept, plans and future for the new steel structure
Early on, the tone was set on flexibility and sustainability that will allow for the next generation Kansas City International Airport to triumph where the old one failed.
The Deputy Director commented with, “I think one of the things that has been a detriment to the lifespan of the existing facility that the Terminals B and C that we are in now are exposed aggregate concrete and as was evidenced by what happened in South Florida last month exposed aggregate concrete isn’t a forever solution. It’s really a poorest material and once its reinforced with steel rebar that rusts from the inside out and expands and causes the concrete to fail. As a nation, I think dealing with the failures of concrete for many years. Starting immediately, the new terminal we’re constructing is not exposed aggregate concrete.”
“The new terminal we’re constructing is steel and glass and where we do have concrete it’s precast panels that make up the exterior skin of the fixture. So, we think that there’s long life for this new facility that will last longer than the 50-year lifespan that we got out of the existing facility and we have designed it to be adaptable for future growth so that I can be a facility that serves Kansas City for a long time,” Meyer continued.
The other thing that was addressed was the improvement to the terminal by not utilizing the old horseshoe design and instead opting for a two-concourse “H” pattern design. The airport’s new terminal will improve on efficiency for both above and below operations. Both Moylan and Meyer noted that the new structure’s layout improves baggage handling systems and allows for the introduction for automated passenger walkways, something the old structure struggled with.
And with the new terminal, the airport’s old argument about walking distance didn’t always stand firm and in some bases improves itself from the old time.
“The existing facility had a lot of easy sightlines where you can walk in the door and see your gate but following the FAA mandate to start security screening in the way that our security checkpoints have grown and we’ve consolidated gates in a lot of cases you’ll see your gate but there is still a lot of walking to be done. For example, if you go from curb to ticket counter to United’s Gate 69 in the existing terminal, the distance you just walked will only be a 20% increase in walk time assuming that you’re not taking steps on a moving walkway,” Meyer said
And with additional space to work with, the new terminal hopes to bring a little of home to those arriving or departing the airport. The latest addition saw limestone panels installed inside the terminal. The question of how the local feel was included into the terminal’s task to be sustainable was asked to both party members.
Moylan took this one, commenting, “We did a lot of outreach to the community to understand what’s important to them and we heard pretty load and clear that having a ‘Kansas City feel’ or a ‘Midwest feel’ was important to the community. The architect took that to heart and fortunately we do have limestone quarries in the state of Missouri and the architect looked at the surrounding rolling hills and kind of based the theme and colors and feel around the rolling hills in Missouri. Conveniently, limestone is also a long-lasting material as well, and with the high traffic rates that go through and a lot of baggage that hits walls, not only limestone but also the ceramic materials we have are architecturally pleasing and offer a Midwestern feeling.”
With regards to other airport features, the new Kansas City terminal will feature international gates capable of widebody jets that will be located in the southern end of Concourse A when opened. Now being a multilevel terminal, Kansas City has been able to make the next Customs and Border Patrol facility closer to the gates without taking up departure level airside space, instead moving the CBP requirements to be located directly under the terminal. The goal is once again flexibility, with the international gates now having the opportunity to be flexed to domestic operations, if need be, something the current KCI does not offer.
With more space to work with, the structure is bringing in more modern amenities to the New KCI terminal. Multi-sensory rooms, meditation rooms, all gender bathrooms, adult-assisting changing rooms and nursing rooms and a fully ADA compliant structure will improve the Kansas City experience.
Meyer talked about the task at hand, saying, “The previous city council challenged us and charged us to build the most accessible airport terminal in the world which is a pretty significant challenge especially considering the budget limitations. Credit to Dan and the team at Edgemoor, Clarkson and SOM the architect who really leaned into accessibility and quite honestly inclusivity in the same breath. So there are a lot of things that we’re looking to deliver that go way beyond ADA requirements but wanting to make all of our airport users feel like they have been thought of and accommodated through the designing construction.”
The structure is also bringing forward a revolutionary new concept in the Airport Simulation Room. The new facility offers the ability for those unsure about the flying experience a chance to dry run flying out of a terminal before ever booking an airline ticket.
Meyer noted, “There are a lot of travelers that may only travel once a year or once every decade and we want to make sure that they feel as accommodated in the facility. thinking of the simulation room specifically, the target audience for that is a families with young travelers that may be on the autism spectrum that are not really sure they can book the flight to Disney World, so instead they gas up the van and drive for three days because at least they know they can control the environment a little bit more.
“Passengers who have been through it will have checked in with us outside of security we’ll have worked with our airport partners to simulate the check-in experience at the ticket counter and simulate the security checkpoint with our TSA partners and then once they’re on the secure side they can experience the actual travel experience,” Meyer continued.
For the travel experience, the NewKCI team isn’t going far to find a mock-up to use in the simulation room. Meyer noted that the department has taken hold of an aircraft that was being parted out by an MRO company on the airport. The ex-Air Busan Airbus A321’s forward fuselage will be separated, and the airport will use the aircraft’s doors, lavatories, bulkheads, overhead bins and gallies to create an aircraft-like atmosphere in the simulation room. Airport kiosks and a mini jetbridge will also be used in the experience.
The Deputy Director has big expectations for the room, hoping that it will bridge the gap and boost confidence to those with disabilities or traveling with elderly passengers in the future. He hopes the program will attract those outside the immediate Kansas City are to visit and test the simulation room before dismissing any chance of flying.
Meyer commented on the design, noting that Pittsburgh got the ball rolling on this idea a few years ago but expects Kansas City to take it to the next level.
As for art in the terminal, the task of being the largest single infrastructure project in Kansas City, MO is being augmented with also being the largest art program in Kansas City’s history. The airport has now crossed halfway through the art selection process, with the first two calls for art being well answered on both the national and international level. The final call for artists will serve the 19 wall hanging instillations and will be specifically narrowed down to just local artists or those who have ties to the Kansas City area.
And the hardest art to save is that which existing travelers to Kansas City can see now. The airport’s well know terrazzo floor, introduced in the late 1990s, has struggled to make the transition to the new airport, but a solution to keep a nod to the unique style will keep those nostalgia-seeking flyers a chance to see part of it going forward.
“The terrazzo was something we thought we could save, but the problem was that it’s only about a quarter to a half an inch thick, and when we would try to take it up, it would crumble into key fob sized to golf ball sized pieces and wasn’t really something we could use. We did hear from the community and that was an important part to potentially save so we worked with the original artists and salvaged the mosaic medallions that were inlaid in the floor so that thirty plus we have salvaged and plan to recycle into the new facility,” said the Deputy Director.
Moylan added that facility will have 45 medallions available and plans to have at least 39 installed when the next terminal opens, one being for each gate in the new facility.
When it came to new airport terminals to compare to, Moylan noted that the airport learned some do’s and don’ts from visiting other airports around the country. A visit to Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower Airport let the team learn that glass jetbridges were as cost efficient to keep cool in the summer as steel sided structures are. Furthermore, a trip to Canada allowed the NewKCI team to learn about an improvement to make baggage handling more efficient. On the opposite side of the argument, some extra costs that were once seen as ‘necessary’ were later viewed as only necessary for airports of a much larger scale and would not make it to Kansas City’s final design.
As for being environmentally aware, the airport has gone ahead with making the structure LEED Gold certified.
Moylan said, “From the very beginning, we head loud and clear that sustainability was an important factor to be considered in the new terminal so we took that to heart and pledged to achieve the equivalent of LEED Gold. The question became is it necessary to actually have a plaque in your hands at the end of the day. Fortunately, as it played out, the costs of that plaque was substantially less than what the rumors had it out to be, so at the end of the day we will have a LEED Gold certified with the plaque in hand.”
And while being environmentally aware is one thing, even protecting those from nature, specifically tornado warnings, has benefits at Kansas City’s new terminal compared to the existing infrastructure.
“We did something that we haven’t been able to do before because our terminals being so long and so skinny in previous weather events when we have had to evacuate, we’ve had to dump the entirety of the secure area and start over. So, restarting has always been an issue. The new facility will have the ability to separate out who’s been dumped out of non-secure and whose been dumped out of secure and it should make reactivation coming out of a tornado warning a little bit easier,” Moylan said.
The airport officials also noted that the lower baggage claim hall is concrete-sided and is expected to serve as the non-secure tornado shelter, while other facilities on the airside part of the terminal will accommodate those who have already crossed the TSA checkpoint.
Dan Moylan ~ “I think the thing I am most proud about is the fact that this project is big enough that it required a substantial number of stakeholders being involved whether it’s the airlines who paid for it, the Kansas City Aviation Department, the City of Kansas City, Missouri, our civic partners, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, ADCs, EDCs. When you get that number of stakeholders involved in a project it can become very complex and contentious at times but at the end of the day this project has not been any of those things. These stakeholders have stepped up to the plate while there’s been some bumps along the way I’m very proud to say that we are over halfway done, approaching the 60% completion mark, and still on time and on budget. I cannot wait till March 2023 when this thing opens and the rest of the Kansas City’s community can actually see what’s being built up here because its really something very special.”
Justin Meyer ~ “I will just jump in and say how incredible it’s been to see this project progess through a global pandemic and certainly tip my hat to the work of Dan with Edgemoor, CWC and all the trades that are here that just kept going even through a global pandemic. [They] certainly put safety procedures in place with the mask wearing and eliminating exposure to the other workers and had to be really flexible with how the project was adapting through that but it just kept going and so it was really amazing. It’s kind of a delight in Kansas City because not a lot of people traveled in the last year and so you know at the beginning of the pandemic we were just going vertical with steel and we’re done now and so there are people who haven’t been up to the airport that are driving past and are absolutely blown away by what’s happened while they were working from home. It’s a testament to the good work of everyone that’s here on the project and that they continue to press on and of course we appreciate the support of our airline partners who at the beginning of the pandemic who said ‘no, Kansas City will press on.’ Certainly, they paused some other project that they were going around like major work in Raleigh and Pittsburgh but they said ‘no, Kansas City, you go!’ And we went!”
And well on their way they are. AirlineGeeks would like to thank Justin Meyer and Dan Moylan for taking the time for talking about the future of Kansas City.