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Archive for Monday, December 23, 2002

Wichita airline drops route to Chicago

December 23, 2002

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— Optimistic economic forecasts helped bring AirTran Airways to Wichita in May, but fiscal reality has prompted the carrier to drop one of its routes.

AirTran will discontinue its two daily flights from Wichita to Chicago in February, airline officials and Mayor Bob Knight said Friday.

"Chicago is a risky market because it is outside our network, but it was something we thought was a reasonable risk," said Kevin Healy, vice president for planning at AirTran. "It just didn't work."

AirTran was wooed to Wichita by the city's Fair Fares campaign, a program under which area businesses pledged about $3.7 million in travel with the airline. For its part, the city pledged $4.5 million in subsidies against the airline's losses over two years.

Five months after AirTran began operation in Wichita, businesses have spent about $885,000 of the money they pledged to spend in the first year.

The airline used its $3 million first-year subsidy from the city in its first four months of operation. Healy declined to comment on how much of the losses could be attributed to the Chicago route.

AirTran will continue its three daily flights from Mid-Continent Airport to Atlanta. Healy said he expects the number of passengers on that route to increase in February when the airline adopts more convenient departure times.

Flights to Chicago will continue through Feb. 4, but travelers no longer will be able to book a direct flight on AirTran from Wichita to Chicago.

City officials said losing the route did not mean the Fair Fares campaign had failed. Knight called the campaign and the city's partnership with AirTran and Frontier JetExpress, which flies to Denver, a success.

Since AirTran started in Wichita in May, fares at Mid-Continent have dropped 60 percent to 70 percent, Knight said, and there was a 36 percent increase in passengers this November compared to November 2001.

Healy said AirTran's venture in Wichita has not done as well as anticipated, but he noted that expectations were based on economic forecasts that were too optimistic.

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