New airport terminal sleek, open

The new airport terminal includes exhibits explaining why Wichita is the Air Capital of the World.
The new airport terminal includes exhibits explaining why Wichita is the Air Capital of the World. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita deserved better than an airport with a secondhand name and needed better than a terminal built for the 1950s, especially after the 2001 terror attacks so dramatically changed aviation security.

So Wednesday’s opening of the new terminal at the newly named Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport will be a proud day of progress for the state’s largest city. The up-to-date facilities, a $200 million project including the new parking garage, show that Wichita is not stuck in the past, but ready to serve business and leisure travelers now and well into the future.

If it took some time for many to be persuaded of the need for a new terminal, the gleaming results have changed some minds as well as turned heads. The sloping roof line, huge windows, countless skylights, glass jetways and ample outlets are making a strong first impression. Users of the new terminal also will encounter something the old one has sorely lacked – attractive exhibits explaining why Wichita is the Air Capital of the World. The winglike lines of a 330-foot-long piece of art by Ed Carpenter of Portland, Ore., further link the city to flight.

Aerodynamic. Sleek. Roomy. Open. Inviting.

Such words, heard during last month’s public open house, aren’t any that one would use to describe the 61-year-old terminal, which officials decided could not be affordably updated to meet multiplying infrastructure needs and post-Sept. 11 security demands. That building will be going away.

The “Mid-Continent” name already has, thank goodness – finally freeing ICT of the colorless hand-me-down it picked up when Kansas City International Airport opened in the 1970s.

Though many thought the renaming was unnecessary, especially because it carried some cost, it has enabled Wichita to offer a proper and overdue tribute to the former Kansan who defended freedom as the supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe and presided over a time of impressive prosperity and peace as the nation’s 34th president.

Opening a new airport terminal offers no guarantees about the future of Wichita’s air service, of course.

Two years after Southwest Airlines began serving ICT, and started leveraging lower fares to Dallas and Chicago, it’s hard to foresee what will happen if the state subsidies for Southwest under the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program go away next year as expected.

As it is, ridership was down slightly in the first quarter of 2015 compared with 2014, though the total 1.53 million passengers last year represented a 1.9 percent increase from 2013.

What Wichita doesn’t need is a great new terminal built and equipped to serve 2 million annual passengers in a situation in which it’s losing carriers and flights. Business and elected leaders will need to monitor usage and flight options closely in the coming months.

Praise is due Victor White, director of airports, and the elected officials and others who have brought the terminal project from talk to completion over the past 14 years, through political and economic turbulence.

In the process of welcoming fliers this week, the beautiful terminal surely will signal to many that Wichita itself has arrived.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman