Henderson Engineers was responsible for the New Terminal at Kansas City International Airport. Aviation practice director James Dietz explains to Tara Craig why electricity was the airport fuel of choice

We were selected as lead engineer for the New Terminal at Kansas City International Airport (MCI) in 2017 after 75% of voters in Kansas City, Missouri, approved the project in a special election. Our brief was for the entire engineering design work. We were contracted for this by various partners, among them the Kansas City Aviation Department, Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Clark/Weitz/ Clarkson., the project's design-builder. Our scope of work covered acoustics, audio/video, electrical, fire alarm, mechanical, plumbing, technology and security building systems.

Henderson Engineers was founded in Kansas City in 1970, and while we’ve worked on major projects throughout the United States and internationally for the past 53 years, the New Terminal is a standout because it’s in our own backyard. There’s a heightened sense of pride in knowing that our project will be the front door to our hometown for decades to come.

James Dietz, Henderson Engineers

James Dietz is aviation practice director at Henderson Engineers, a Kansas-headquartered building systems design firm

Full electrification

At just over one million square feet, the New Terminal was the first ground-up Henderson Engineers project of its size and scale to be all-electric, minus concessions cooking. Our philosophy from the beginning was to reduce the project’s operational carbon footprint and that intention from conception to completion stands out from similar systems that we have delivered on smaller projects.

The new system powers all airport operations except for the kitchen cooking facilities. Chefs are accustomed to gas stoves as the restaurant industry standard and that shaped the feedback we received from concessionaires on the possibility of all-electric kitchens. However, that was around five years ago and the idea of full electrification is gaining steam as electric induction cooking becomes more familiar and sustainability becomes a higher priority for restaurateurs. We designed the electrical system at the New Terminal with ample capacity to make updates if desired. Because of this, the kitchen facilities could easily go all-electric further down the road, which would be as simple as capping the gas and hooking up the cooking spaces to the existing all-electric power system.

MCI Chiller Plant

The Henderson-designed high-efficiency chiller plant in MCI’s New Terminal

As we neared the project’s completion, Henderson’s in-house sustainability director conducted a comparative analysis. Based on our findings, we confidently expect that the all-electric system will avoid 92% of operational CO2 emissions by 2050 when compared to a traditional mixed-fuel system that utilises oil, coal and other fossil fuels to power airport operations.

In addition to environmental benefits, there were also financial advantages. From a construction standpoint, mechanical equipment costs less when building and operating an all-electric facility. Further savings stemmed from not having to procure gas lines, venting and other gas-related equipment that would have otherwise been necessary.

Like any major public infrastructure project, there are many stakeholders

James Dietz

The system itself

Design and installation of the new system didn’t take any longer than would have been the case with a conventional set-up. Together with our project partners, we completed analyses and planning for what it would look like beforehand, so additional time wasn’t a factor despite the unconventional approach. Any extra time went into the analysis and evaluation stage to determine which approaches worked best to meet the project’s goals.

The system took up less physical space within the central utility plant due to the all-electric boilers being smaller. We also didn’t have to install chimney flues, piping and exhaust systems, so there wasn’t as much overhead congestion to design and construct around. In total, we estimate that we made around 20% in space savings, making it easier for personnel to manoeuvre around the boiler plant and providing more operational space for storage or making any future updates and additions. 

Prior to installation, we liaised with the Kansas City Aviation Department, which owns and operates the new facility. There was education involved throughout the project regarding the advantages of going all-electric, the footprint of key components and how the department could realise the system’s full potential based on what we had modelled. Electric boilers are generally easier to operate than gas boilers as they require fewer adjustments, have a lower risk of system failures and are typically more robust. These factors contributed to buy-in from key stakeholders from the beginning.

Fountain artwork Kansas City

‘Fountain’ by Leo Villareal can be seen in the Retail Node A area of the New Terminal, where the A Concourse intersects the Connector

Challenges and solutions

Like any major public infrastructure project, there are many stakeholders. You want to make sure everyone is on the same page and has the right information to make the best possible decisions within their specialities. It’s also important to have the right information on hand to relay to the general public as needed. Therefore, the biggest challenge of the MCI project was providing timely information in the right format and including the most relevant details. This involved countless presentations, meetings and review sessions to give updates on our progress and address any questions that arose based on the data we provided. In short, communication was the biggest challenge as well as the solution.

The project has been open for a little over a month at this point and the positive feedback has far exceeded what Henderson Engineers could have hoped for. In hindsight, we could have advocated harder for all-electric cooking kitchen facilities. Concessionaires on projects we’re undertaking now are more receptive to it, so we may have had success back then. But overall we’re proud of being part of delivering the New Terminal on time and on budget while meeting the needs, goals and expectations that were set forth by the Kansas City Aviation Department and the city of Kansas itself.

Kansas City e-GSE charging points

Henderson provided the specification and infrastructure for electric ground service equipment chargers

A source of inspiration

As the largest ever infrastructure project in the history of Kansas City, the New Terminal provided an opportunity to push the boundaries of what’s possible, serving as a catalyst for other developments. Once you earn that LEED stamp of approval for sustainable approaches, it makes it easier for smaller projects to jump on the bandwagon. It’s a case of: “If a once-in-a-generation project like MCI can do it, we can do it too.”

Many municipalities, as well as design and construction firms around the globe, have ambitious climate goals that typically target 2040 or 2050. So, over the next decade, we expect to see an uptick in the use of renewables like solar energy and more all-electric facilities given their higher redundancy and reliability. We’ll also see more greenery in facades and interiors, which helps with cooling, dampens noise and absorbs carbon. More attention will also be paid to areas that often aren’t first in mind when it comes to sustainability, such as baggage handling systems and operational systems like boarding bridges and gates.

Kansas New Terminal Check-in

The New Terminal covers just over one million square feet

Eco inspo

What inspired us? When it comes to airports that have ticked the sustainability boxes, I love Palm Springs International Airport in California. It’s amazing to go against the grain of our industry by eschewing an enclosed environment for a mostly open-air facility with outdoor concourses. The connection with nature and the outdoors provides a great experience, while limiting the energy needed for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). The ongoing 20-year expansion at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, Canada, is another favourite for its incorporation of a geothermal system for heating and cooling. Airports are 24/7 facilities that use a lot of energy, and the outdoor and geothermal concepts show that there are sustainable solutions from the natural world that could be applied when the local climate allows it.

In terms of non-airport buildings, one of our projects – Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California – has been a real source of inspiration. The NBA (National Basketball Association) facility shattered venue design expectations by using 100% solar power, installing low-flow plumbing to reduce water consumption, using a displacement ventilation system with under-seat vents for air conditioning and incorporating natural cooling at the first ever indoor/outdoor arena – to name a few. It was the first LEED platinum-certified arena in the world, making it a standout model for every large project, including airports.

When it comes to airports that have ticked the sustainability boxes, I love Palm Springs International Airport in California

James Dietz

What next for Henderson?

We’re currently involved in the expansion project at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas, as well as the new terminal at Des Moines International Airport in Iowa and the terminal modernisation programme at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska. 

We’re a signatory to the Carbon Leadership Forum’s MEP 2040 challenge, a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions on our projects by 2040. We also have our own 2040 Climate Pledge, which commits us to achieving net zero carbon  across our business operations. So you can expect us to continue to strongly prioritise electrification, water conservation and other decarbonisation approaches.

MCI Electric Boilers

All-electric boilers contributed to the project becoming the first and largest LEED v4 GOLD BD+C: NC certified terminal/concourse project in the Midwestern United States

Kansas City – bigger and better

The 40-gate New Terminal at Kansas City International Airport opened for commercial air service on February 28, 2023. At just over one million square feet and with a budget of $1.5bn, it is the largest single infrastructure project in the city’s history. Design and construction work began in 2018 and the project broke ground in March 2019.

“This terminal is a new front door to the people of Kansas City – to everyone in our region, in Missouri and Kansas. We are on time, in fact a day early, and on budget,” said Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City. “Because of this project, thousands of Missourians and Kansans have got jobs and built new careers. Because of this project, we will bring millions, if not billions, of dollars in new economic development to Missouri and Kansas. Because of this project, we will build future generations of exceptional memories here at Kansas City International Airport  .”

With future capacity in mind, the terminal has been designed to expand to 50 gates when passenger volumes require it, the airport operator said. Two moving walkways expedite transfers between the concourses, making it easier for travellers to navigate the airport. Consolidated and flexible security checkpoints with 16 lanes were designed to accommodate the ebb and flow of passenger volume. Adjacent to the terminal is a new 6,200-space garage offering covered parking.

A priority for planners was to make the New Terminal the most accessible airport building in the United States. As a result, it features gradual slopes, a play area for children of all abilities, sensory and quiet rooms for those who have disabilities, baby feeding rooms and service animal relief areas. The Kansas City Air Travel Experience is a partial airliner adapted to help individuals with anxiety or other conditions that may make them fearful of flying.

Kansas City facade from side

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg described the airport as ‘a model for similar efforts across the country’