Three Points: Kansas City & Sierra Leone, arduous drone certification, 737 tweaks

Vol. 63

The bellwether airport terminals of Kansas City and Sierra Leone

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, 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.


Drone certification is a cautionary tale for eVTOLs

A decade ago, many investors expected commercial drone operations to be a lot further along than they are today, particularly in the United States. While there has been some progress on integrating small drones into the national airspace system, it’s safe to say that neither the FAA nor industry has exceeded expectations. In January of this year, the Government Accountability Office faulted the FAA for lacking a comprehensive strategy for drone integration, which has hindered all but the simplest line-of-sight operations.

Charlton Evans, the founder of the consulting firm End State Solutions, provides insight into the current state of U.S. drone regulations in the latest episode of The Vertical Space, a podcast hosted by Luka Tomljenovic of Radius Capital and James T. Barry of Celerity05, a management consulting company. Among other things, Evans addresses a recent industry rumor that the FAA is abandoning its so-called “durability and reliability” (D&R) process for type certifying drones.


Southwest and the return of the tiny aircraft tweak

With soaring travel demand, shaky supply chains, and the pace of certification slowing the arrival of new jets and environmental pressure, tweaking aging aircraft is back en vogue.

While the attention of the aviation industry is rightfully turned to making major leaps in fuel consumption and carbon emissions, small improvements can still add up to reduce the environmental impact of each flight. Southwest Airlines recently became the first operator to introduce a kit of fuel saving modifications across a handful of its older 737s.

The first of five Southwest aircraft with the recently FAA-certified kits for the Boeing 737-700 from Aero Design Labs went into service on February 25 on an intra-Texas flight between Dallas-Love Field and El Paso — hearkening back to an older approach to improving efficiency.


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