Trans World Airlines (TWA) was a pioneer in American aviation from 1930 until 2001. TWA was born in October 1930 with the merger of Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), Western Air Express (WAE), Maddux Air Lines, Standard, and Pittsburgh Aviation Industries Corporation (PAIC) to form Transcontinental & Western Air (T&WA). In the summer of 1931, TWA moved its headquarters to Kansas City, where it operated out of Fairfax Airport until construction of KCI in 1953. During its operation, TWA achieved many firsts, including: the first airline to carry passengers on scheduled coast-to-coast service in the United States, the first airline to operate regular all-cargo service, and the first airline to provide non-stop transcontinental air service. TWA’s legacy lives on today at the TWA Museum in Kansas City and the newly-constructed TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. You can learn more about the history of TWA here.


Kansas City International Airport (KCI), originally known as Mid-Continent International Airport (MCI), was formally dedicated on October 21-23, 1972. Designed in the Brutalist style by the prominent Kansas City architectural firm of Kivett and Myers, with Burns & McDonnell, the three terminals (A, B & C), with their “Drive-to-your-gate” configuration was a unique design, the first of its kind implemented worldwide.

Before construction of KCI, two other airports served as the primary airports for Kansas City. In 1928 the Fairfax Industrial Airport opened in Kansas City, Kansas, which became the home of the Trans World Airlines (TWA) overhaul base. Opened in 1929, the Municipal Airport (now the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport) became the headquarters for TWA. The Kansas City 1951 flood caused severe damage to both Municipal Airport and Fairfax Industrial Airport. The flood devastated both properties, but the most significant damage was to the TWA overhaul base. As both airports were land locked and thus, unable to expand, the only solution was to find a site for a new airport.

The Aviation Committee of Kansas City’s city council, the Kansas City Airport Selection Committee, working with the Platte County Courts, examined a 3,300-acre site adjacent to US Highway 71 (now I-29), directly north of downtown Kansas City. Recognizing the potential and the need to have sufficient distance for landing and takeoff, officials purchased a total of 4,590 acres, and on May 3, 1953 Kansas City formally named Platte County as the location of a new Mid-Continent Airport (MCI), now the Kansas City International Airport.

With the land acquisition complete, Kansas City began negotiations with TWA for the establishment of their overhaul base at the site. In April 1954 a deal was struck, leasing 250 acres to TWA and construction began in the fall of 1954. Between 1954 and 1956 two runways were constructed at the TWA overhaul base, and the first control tower at MCI was built.

 The Kansas City Library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections is a collection of thousands of digitized photographs and material related to the history of the Kansas City region. This collection includes photographs and documents about the planning, construction, and history of KCI, which can be found here.


KCI represents the transition from the early days of commercial aviation, when airports were often sited close to downtown commercial districts, to the Jet Age, when the need for longer runways and distance from residential areas prompted consideration of locations in undeveloped areas farther from urban centers.  When it was completed in 1972, KCI was one of the country’s largest airports and the showplace for Trans World Airways (TWA), then headquartered in Kansas City. 

The location of a new airport for Kansas City in Platte County was announced on May 3, 1953 as part of an effort to keep TWA in the region following the Great Flood of 1951, which had destroyed TWA’s facilities at Fairfax Airport.  Construction of two runways, an air traffic control tower and a new maintenance facility for TWA began in 1954, and MCI and the TWA Overhaul Base both opened in 1957. However, the new MCI airport did not serve commercial passenger airlines until 1972. In the interim, Kansas City’s Municipal Airport served as the passenger airport for the area.