The bellwether airport terminals of Kansas City and Sierra Leone

New runways are few and far between, but new airport terminals herald a renaissance in aviation infrastructure -- and a little recognized shift in geopolitical influence.

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A new terminal is distinctly different from a new airport (of which there are few in the U.S.). For passengers traveling through a new terminal building, however, the experience is often so different that it may as well be a new airport.

Kansas City International Airport (which resides in Missouri, not Kansas for our international readers) opened its long-awaited terminal project on February 27. The gleaming new facility happily abandons the long-loathed 50-year old terminals that were designed in an era before security became a central requirement in airport design. U.S. airports have long been the butt of many jokes, but the rebirth of Kansas City’s airport is a new first impression for the heart of the midwest.

While new runways are few and far between, the U.S. is undergoing an airport infrastructure renaissance. New Orleans’ new terminal opened in November 2019 and during the pandemic LaGuardia opened its new B Terminal in June 2020 and C Terminal in June 2022. Seattle opened the new N gates in June 2021 and its new international arrival facility in 2022, Orlando its new C terminal in September and Newark Terminal A in November. Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 5 expansion is set to wrap in 2023 and commence a pair of new satellite terminals later this year, while the new Global Terminal begins construction in 2026. And new terminals in Portland and Pittsburgh both open in 2025, along with the new JFK Terminal One project in 2025. The list goes on.

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While West African aviation has not typically been a focus of The Air Current, another just-completed terminal at Lungi International Airport at Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown deserves recognition. The new project, which opened on March 3, is aimed at cultivating “a development plan positioning the pivotal West African state as an aviation hub” is an unlikely marker of larger geopolitical machinations. It’s the first post-colonial airport terminal built by the country since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in April 1961.

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