The largest airline serving Kansas City International Airport — and benefactor for its $1.5 billion new terminal — has expectations cruising at 30,000-foot altitude for the project, just under a year from its scheduled opening.

Mike Van de Ven, who in September became president of Southwest Airlines, highlighted Kansas City as an economically strong connector, alongside cities like Austin, Indianapolis and Tampa, in the airline’s point-to-point network of flights.

Southwest first started service from KCI just over 40 years ago, on Feb. 18, 1982, as the 18th city in its system. The airline saw 1.66 million local enplanements in 2021. At the end of January, it had a 44.8% market share, according to data from the city’s Aviation Department. Southwest now employs 304 people in Kansas City, most of them ground’s personnel, according to the airline.

“When I grew up, I always thought Kansas City’s airport was one of the best airports ever built. Literally, you could park in a parking lot, run across the street and be at your gate in five minutes,” Van de Ven said in a Thursday interview.

“Just after 9/11, all of that changed. For us, we have so much frequency in our gates, we need big gate areas, we need expansive terminals and, when we do have people to connect, we have to have airports that are conducive to that.”

Van de Ven said Southwest’s Airport Affairs team has monitored the new terminal’s progress, which he described as a “big win” for Kansas City. The terminal’s planned March 3, 2023, opening stands to align with passenger booking momentum that he said is anticipated to pick up in the summer and continue through the new year.