Wichita The arrival of AirTran Airlines has decreased fares and increased traffic at Mid-Continent Airport, exactly what city officials hoped for when they brought the discount carrier to town.
Some fares are down 60 percent to 70 percent since the Orlando, Fla.-based discount carrier began service May 8, the city said Wednesday.
Traffic was up about 8 percent in May over May 2001 the first month since the terrorist attacks that passenger traffic has risen over the same month the previous year.
In May, 122,110 passengers came through Mid-Continent, compared with 112,788 passengers last year.
"I promised we were going to change the way airlines do business in Wichita, and we have," Wichita Mayor Bob Knight said in a statement.
The city said it hoped to have Frontier Airlines, another discount carrier, providing service to Denver by year's end.
"Frontier is watching what's going on in Wichita with great interest," said city government relations director Mike Taylor. "We hope that by fall and certainly by the end of the year, we'll have an announcement with Frontier."
The city doesn't yet know how much it will have to pay AirTran after the first month of service. To attract the carrier to Wichita, the city promised to underwrite up to $3 million of AirTran's losses during the first year and an additional $1.5 million in the second year.
Wichita also agreed to spend $400,000 to help market the airline. In addition, businesses and organizations pledged $4.3 million of their travel budgets to AirTran during its first year.
Airport manager Bailis Bell said businesses had pledged about $2.8 million through the Fair Fares campaign to attract Frontier.
"We've seen fares to the East go down dramatically," Taylor said. "But the same is not true of destinations to the West. We know that AirTran has made the difference in those fares, and we feel Frontier would do the same to the West."
Frontier spokeswoman Tracey Kelly said that the Denver-based airline did look at traffic growth and a sustainable market in making decisions about where to add service.
"Wichita continues to be on the list of cities we look at," Kelly said. "And traffic is what we look for."
AirTran's vice president for planning, Kevin Healy, said the numbers in Wichita suggested a huge, untapped market.
"We have plenty of room to grow, but the numbers are good for the first month in a city," Healy said. "And the trend is going in the right direction."
Before AirTran, one airline was charging $1,298 for a round-trip walk-up fare to Chicago. That airline now matches the AirTran fare: $315.
Tickets to eastern cities showed comparable discounts.