Last week’s symbolic groundbreaking for a new airport terminal in Wichita was a relief, given the delay and hassle that preceded it. It also was a welcome, warranted endorsement of the city’s future amid challenging times.
The two-floor terminal, expected to open in early 2015, will have 12 gates and boarding bridges, spacious ticketing and baggage-claim areas, better concessions and passenger services on both sides of security, and an exhibit space to tell the story of Wichita’s extraordinary aviation heritage. The artist renderings suggest a design that is sleek and flight-inspired.
One advantage of the slow, 11-year windup toward replacing the 1954-era terminal at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport was that it gave the community a better opportunity to examine and come to appreciate the need. The original, considered an “ultramodern” model of comfort and efficiency in its day, was showing its age even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks redefined the meaning of “airport security.”
Afterward, what had seemed a modest airport fit for a midsize U.S. city quickly became awkward and uncomfortable, with a long, slow security queue in its narrow center corridor and almost no room or seats for people awaiting arriving passengers. Airport officials have adapted as well as they could, even adding another security lane this summer. But the terminal and parking lot no longer seem as convenient and user-friendly as they once did.
And that’s only the traveler’s perspective.
The current terminal’s electrical, heating and cooling systems are obsolete. It falls short of building codes and federal requirements for accessibility as well as security. And it isn’t serving the needs of the airlines the airport has, let alone those it wants to attract or lure back.
It helped bring the public along when the terminal project was rescaled downward during the recession, bringing its price down, too. The construction cost of the building is now figured at $101.5 million, to be covered through user fees and a $53 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. The project also involves a $40 million parking garage.
It’s hard to imagine that Wichita would be in a position to take on such a project if not for the Affordable Airfares initiative. The city, Sedgwick County, the Legislature and three governors have stepped up with public funds to support low-fare service to Wichita over the past decade, helping to keep passenger counts strong and to secure Southwest Airlines’ commitment to maintain service after it merges with AirTran Airways.
Wichita’s airport needs to make a strong first impression on visitors, especially those arriving to do business in the self-described Air Capital of the World. The current one looks like Wichita is making do rather than going places.
Congratulations and thanks are due the many people over so many years who moved the terminal project forward amid political, legal and economic strife. Their persistence will pay off for business and leisure fliers for decades to come.
Now, can we talk about that name – ACT 3? (For Air Capital Terminal 3, meant to reflect its status as the city’s third terminal.) Really?