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Wed, Apr 20, 2005

They Did It: Wichita Approves More AirTran Payments

Decision Flies In The Face Of FAA Warning

In spite of a written warning from the FAA that it could lose millions of dollars in grants, Wichita city council members Tuesday night approved another $2.5 million in subsidies. Wichita has already paid $7 million to AirTran to keep the airline flying to and from Atlanta every day -- a move city leaders say reduces air fares.

As ANN has reported since Sunday, the FAA's director of airport compliance, Charles Erhard, sent city leaders a letter earlier this month, accusing them of discriminating by paying some airlines but not others at Mid-Continent Airport. The subsidies paid to AirTran aren't paid to Delta, which flies the same Wichita-Atlanta daily route. The FAA gave Wichita 30 days to "remedy the situation."

But at last night's meeting, Mayor Carlos Mayans said, "We have, in the past, been discriminated against, rate-wise." He was quoted by the Wichita Eagle.

There was a further sign that Wichita City Council members were unfazed by the FAA warning. They refused to consider reconstituting the airport authority, even after one FAA official suggested that would probably solve the whole problem. Wichita disbanded its airport authority in 1999. Now, the city council itself acts as the airport board. The FAA's beef centers on its finding that the city council can't offer subsidies to some airlines and not others because it is the airport board. That, says the agency, amounts to "unjust discrimination" against carriers like Delta.

In fact, the FAA's investigation was prompted by a complaint from Delta. DAL representatives Tuesday said they don't want the city to stop its subsidies to AirTran. Instead, Delta's Doug Blissit want subsidies for their own airline.

"We're only looking for a level playing field," Blissit told the council.

FMI: www.wichitagov.org

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