Would Take Funding Burden Off Wichita... But What Will The FAA
If you run an airport that accepts FAA grants, you can't treat
one airline any different than another. That's the rule. But since
2002, the city of Wichita, KS has drawn the ire of the federal
government for subsidies it pays Atlanta-based AirTran.
For each the past four years, Wichita has spent about $7 million
to keep AirTran's business -- much to the dismay of rival
carrier Delta, which the Wichita Eagle reports had asked for
Wichita city leaders say Delta overcharges for flights to that
captive market, so they decided to dig deep to attract another
carrier like AirTran.
In spite of complaints from other carriers, and warnings
from Washington, the subsidies continue -- and the threat of a
showdown with the FAA has loomed just over the horizon.
Now, however, the state of Kansas has stepped in, by offering to
bolster the subsidy fund.
At a meeting scheduled for Wednesday night, Sedgewick County
commissioners could decide to take over the entire subsidy program
from the city of Wichita.
Under terms of the proposal, the three-year contract would
commit up to $7 million per year to subsidize AirTran's three daily
round-trip flights to Atlanta from ICT. The Wichita Eagle reports
most of that money -- approximately $5 million -- would come from
the state through its Regional Economic Area Partnership fund.
County Manager Bill Buchanan said the city and county would then
split whatever is needed beyond the state money, up to $1 million
The city would also stop subsidizing AirTran's Saturday flight
to Orlando, FL.
"It wasn't a flight that was huge for us to subsidize," said
Andy Schlapp, director of government relations for the county.
That might -- just MIGHT -- head the subsidy battle off at the
pass. But would that indeed quash the FAA's case against city-based
subsidies? Stay tuned.