Sky Is the Limit
A new era at Kansas City International Airport raises the bar for sustainability
8 MIN READ
As the sun peeks above the clouds on a crisp Missouri morning, Aaron Kaden gazes up at the expansive new airport terminal and thinks about the journey that brought the state-of-the-art facility to life.
The new terminal is the by-product of a multiyear, $1.5‑billion project to revitalize the Kansas City International Airport (KCI). It’s also a bold declaration of the city’s commitment to a more sustainable future.
“John Deere has been a big part of how we got to this point,” says Kaden, fleet asset superintendent at KCI. “And they are a big part of where we are going. With the way they keep producing and coming up with new technology, I feel that John Deere is the leader in sustainability.” KCI opened the new terminal in late February, tying a bow on the largest infrastructure project in the history of Missouri’s largest city. But to those at KCI, the journey toward a more sustainable future is far from over.
In March, just two weeks after the new terminal opened, John Deere made an industry-wide splash at CONEXPO/CON-AGG 2023 when it unveiled a wide range of new electric and hybrid-electric equipment. This included the new E‑Drive 744 X‑Tier Wheel Loader and 850 X‑Tier Dozer as well as the E‑Power 310 X‑Tier Backhoe Loader, 244 X‑Tier Compact Wheel Loader, and 145 X‑Tier Excavator concept.
“I am always paying attention to the new equipment and technology that John Deere is coming out with,” Kaden says. “We are searching for new ways to stay ahead of the curve, and John Deere will help us do that.”
Building the fleet
When The Dirt first reported on KCI more than one year ago, it was already clear the airport was on a path toward sustainability — and John Deere was playing a significant role in shaping that future.
Kaden credits his predecessor Kenny Williams for setting the wheels in motion. Williams purchased seven fully electric buses to shuttle passengers throughout the airport, making KCI the first such facility to introduce fully electric buses. He also invested in hybrid machines like the 644 X‑Tier Wheel Loader, which played a pivotal role in construction efforts for the new terminal.
“Given the advances in battery technology, introducing electric vehicles was a no-brainer,” Williams said back then. “Sustainability is important to me, so when there is any opportunity to use an alternative fuel, I’m all in.”
To Williams, it wasn’t just about what the people at KCI were doing but who they were.
“We’re forward thinkers at KCI,” he said. “Environmentally, we’re doing a better job with how we’re burning energy and what we’re using for fuels.” Partnering with John Deere to support these efforts made perfect sense to Williams. “The 644 X‑Tier is amazing and a big part of our environmental efforts to reduce noise and emissions,” he said. “We use it almost everywhere.”
Williams recently retired from his post at KCI, transitioning to a chapter of life that focuses less on work and more on his young grandchildren. Now responsible for filling his shoes, Kaden still speaks glowingly about Williams’ legacy.
“It’s very important to me to carry on the sustainability aspects that Kenny put in place,” he says. Since taking the reins, Kaden has upped the ante. “Seven more electric buses have been ordered, and we now have three more 644 X‑Tier Loaders,” he says pridefully.
After doubling down on its commitment to sustainable machines, KCI now boasts a total of five E‑Power machines, including one 644K Hybrid and four 644 X‑Tier models.
These machines have collectively played a pivotal role in construction efforts, moving dirt, gravel, and other materials across the vast footprint of the evolving airport. But they do so quietly, burning less fuel and emitting less noise than comparable models. “One of the biggest benefits we feel with running a hybrid is it reduces fuel consumption,” Kaden says. “It helps with reducing that carbon footprint and meeting our sustainability goals.”
“Environmentally, we’re doing a better job with how we’re burning energy and using fuels.”
Positioned for success
Even as he embraces big-picture thinking and lofty long-term goals, Kaden says he takes the greatest pleasure from the little things. “What I enjoy most about my job is seeing my staff be successful,” he says. “My job is to help the operators do their jobs better and more efficiently.”
Aviation Maintenance Mechanic Kenneth Jones is part of the team that keeps KCI operations running smoothly. His duties include everything from fixing potholes to mending the fences that surround the sprawling facility. Jones emphasizes that he simply couldn’t do his job without machines that are up to the task.
The quality of the machines is extremely important. It’s the number-one thing we depend on,” he says. “If we don’t have the right equipment, we’re not going to do a very good job at all.” Jones says he is more than pleased with the John Deere machines at his disposal. “They are very simple and easy to use,” he explains. “And on top of that, they have the power we need.”
Glancing across the runway at KCI, Jones emphasizes that he has learned to expect the unexpected. A big part of his job is rolling with the punches and adapting to unforeseen challenges, regardless of what Mother Nature throws his way. “One big thing about John Deere equipment is the reliability,” he says. “These machines are very good in the tough conditions we have around here.”
One of the toughest scenarios that can confront an airport in the Midwest is a mighty snowstorm. KCI invested in nine new John Deere loaders, including multiple 644 X‑Tier Wheel Loaders, to tackle snow-removal duties. The new machines, 844L and 644L Wheel Loaders among them, are collectively used to push the snow into large piles, then load it into a melting machine.
“Whether we’re handling a load of snow or working through a 12-hour shift, these machines are something we can depend on,” Jones says.
Creating a better future
The late author, educator, and consultant Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
It’s a philosophy being put into action at KCI.
“The hybrid and electric equipment we use here is helping reduce our carbon footprint,” Kaden says. “We’ve also asked the airlines to go all electric with the equipment they use around this new terminal. The city wants to be a leader in sustainability, and the airport is a huge part of that.”
Kaden takes solace in the fact that he and his crew have others on their side, including their longtime John Deere dealer, Murphy Tractor & Equipment Co. “The relationship we have with Murphy Tractor is huge,” Kaden says. “They’ve always been able to help us whenever we need anything.”
KCI views John Deere as a partner for the long haul, knowing that the company’s emphasis on cutting-edge technology and sustainability aligns with the airport’s own goals. With KCI’s groundbreaking new terminal complete and a new era at the airport underway, Kaden feels like the sky is the limit.
“It’s great to know we have this relationship with John Deere, and that we’re in this together,” he says.
Kansas City International Airport is serviced by Murphy Tractor & Equipment Co., Kansas City, Missouri.
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