Airport Profile: Kansas City Downtown Airport Gets An Upgrade

 - September 27, 2006, 9:13 AM

On November 15, Runway 1-19 at Charles Wheeler Downtown Airport (MKC) in Kansas City, Mo., reopened following extensive work. The rehabilitation was the first phase of an ambitious $69.6 million program to update the 77-year-old airport, which serves as a general aviation reliever for Kansas City International.

Work will resume this spring, starting with a planned 40-day rehabilitation of the intersection of the two runways and continuing with further refurbishment of the south end of Runway 1-19. The entire runway project is scheduled for completion by September, with several longer-term projects to continue.

Kansas City takes pride in its downtown airport, which sits on 695 acres on the banks of the Missouri River directly across from the city’s business district. With the demise of Chicago Meigs Field and the severe restrictions on operations still in place at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, only a handful of major cities still have a general aviation facility adjacent to their downtown business centers. Kansas City is one of them. Dedicated by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, MKC is the city’s legacy airport and still one of its busiest, with an average of approximately 700 operations per day.

Last March, the Kansas City Aviation Department activated a master plan update and began the facility overhaul at MKC that is meant to enhance the airport’s utility over the next 20 years. The program is also meant to spur economic growth associated with general aviation, without having a negative effect on the quality of life for its neighbors. The renovations earmarked for the project include more storage hangars, improved taxiways, increased ramp space and the addition of runway safety zones on its two runways.

In addition to its convenience to the business district, the downtown airport also has easy access to all interstate highways that serve the metropolitan area. The airport is popular as a refueling stop on transcontinental flights because of its central geographic location. Traffic spans the gamut from piston singles to ultra-long-range business jets. Two FBOs serve nearly 300 based aircraft, as well as itinerant and charter aircraft, offering fuel, full maintenance, aircraft rentals, sales and flight training. Statistics for 2004 (the last full year available) show 107,650 operations, of which 56,278 were classed as “civil itinerant,” 30,352 as “civil local” and 19,922 as “air taxi.” The remaining 1,098 were divided among military operations and 42 categorized as air carrier, presumably diversions since no airlines serve the airport with regular flights.

Runway Improvements

The runway improvement phase completed on November 15 included the following elements:

• rehabilitation of Runway 1-19 electrical systems, to include airfield lighting;

• improved runway profile on Runway 1-19 to current standards in transverse and longitudinal gradient;

• electrical upgrades to existing navaids;

• relocation of Runway 19 approach lighting system;

• rehabilitation or reconfiguration of several taxiways, including permanent closure and complete pavement removal of Taxiways Charlie, Echo and Hotel-1;

• installation of Runway 1-19 pavement condition sensors to improve winter operations; and

• improvements to the levee relief well at south end of Runway 19.

When work resumes in the spring on the runway intersection, operations will be limited to the northern 3,300 feet of Runway 1-19, a change that will obviously affect larger aircraft. The airport management has made arrangements with the administrative staff at Kansas City International Airport Executive Beechcraft (which operates the FBOs at both airports) and American Airlines to provide temporary hangar storage and other accommodations for regular tenants at MKC.

The airport master plan also calls for possible demolition of several open-sided hangars to be replaced by more substantial custom hangars. The fuel farm is also slated to be moved from the airport’s northeast corner (adjacent to a railway line and too close to the runway for current safety standards) to the southwest side of the field.