Kansas City is in the midst of a debate about whether our airport should undergo a renovation that would cost at least $1.2 billion. There are many questions about this, and Kansas City Mayor Sly James just called on the city to have an “adult discussion about the facts,“ but the City Council has no interest in actually answering questions. In fact, City Councilman Russ Johnson, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, refused to answer questions from the public or from the media about his hearing on the matter.
At that hearing in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Kansas City Aviation Department Director Mark VanLoh walked the committee through a slide show detailing the problems with the existing Kansas City International Airport. Chief among the reasons for spending $1.2 billion on a new terminal is “poor passenger experience.” Yet none of the material available to the public gives any indication of how the Aviation Department concluded passengers have a poor experience. When I asked about the Aviation Department’s methodology, Johnson responded that my questions would not be answered (questions start at 1:13:30). This matter is important because in 2010, J.D. Power and Associates rated the same airport as “highest among medium airports,“ writing: “Kansas City International (MCI) ranks highest among medium airports, and performs particularly well in three of the six factors: airport accessibility, check-in/baggage check and security check.”
In his later remarks disparaging J.D. Power, Johnson wrongly referred to the company as a think tank. It is not. It is a customer satisfaction survey firm that McGraw-Hill owns. J.D. Power is likely known to many voters because its ratings appear in numerous television commercials. VanLoh even said that when J.D. Power rated MCI the best in 2010, his department asked if they could publicize that rating and were told it would cost $80,000 to do so. They were likely correct to demur. But if VanLoh and his colleagues are going to rate the same airport as providing a “poor passenger experience,” it is reasonable to ask how they did so when they endorsed Power’s “best in the country” rating just a few years prior.
If the Aviation Department and their chorus on the City Council want to tear down a much-loved and nationally recognized airport, the public deserves transparent processes and substantive answers to serious questions regarding the endeavor’s necessity.