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Archive for Sunday, April 20, 2003

Commercial flights servicing Topeka will be terminated

US Airways Express loses subsidy to offer trips to KCI

April 20, 2003

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— The lone provider of commercial air service out of Topeka will lose its federal subsidy May 1, when the government ceases funding of Air Midwest/Mesa Airlines.

The airline, which operates as US Airways Express at Forbes Field in Topeka, offered three flights daily to and from Kansas City International Airport.

However, it is losing its subsidy from the U.S. Department of Transportation because of a substantial decrease in passengers, said David Stremming, president of the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority.

"Air Midwest sent a letter saying if it lost its funding, it would have to cease services," Stremming said.

Stremming said he learned about the decision early Friday afternoon. He made the announcement later that day during a news conference at the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

The airline received an annual subsidy of about $672,000 from DOT but wasn't supposed to receive more than $200 per passenger.

However, the subsidy per passenger had actually been closer to $300, Stremming said, which meant Air Midwest was in violation of the laws governing essential air services funding and the Central Air Service.

Air Midwest carried about 2,200 passengers in the past 12 months, Stremming said. There have been between one and nine people per flight on planes that can carry up to 19 passengers.

With the option to reduce or eliminate the subsidy, Stremming said, federal officials decided to drop the funding.

One problem was that two of Air Midwest's three daily flights to KCI, which take about 25 minutes, were late enough in the evening -- 7:50 p.m. and 9 p.m. -- that it was difficult for travelers to make a connection with another flight.

Another problem, Mayor Butch Felker said, was the cost of a flights. A round-trip ticket can range from $220 to $250, according to ticket information on online travel Web sites.

"Topekans aren't going to pay the money to do that," Felker said. "It's too much money."

Commercial air service would remain a priority for the MTAA, Chairman Jerry Lonergan said.

"This is not a reflection on Topeka or the airline service," Lonergan said. "We're going to look at this with the glass half full, rather than half empty."

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