Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Wichita mayor wants state to pick up airline subsidy

Mayans wants $3 million from Commerce Department to keep AirTran

July 18, 2003

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— Wichita Mayor Carlos Mayans wants the state to provide $3 million a year to keep discount air carrier AirTran Airways serving his city.

"We're trying to spur some action in that area," said Mayans, who discussed the idea this week with Lt. Gov. John Moore, who also serves as the state's commerce secretary.

If the request qualifies for state assistance, it would use up almost all of the funds earmarked for attracting or expanding businesses, said Steve Kelly, director of the Commerce Department's business development division.

"This kind of a use is not typically what we have done," Kelly said.

Much of the department's budget is committed to work force training and programs, and community development projects. The agency is entirely funded by the state's lottery.

AirTran completed its first year of Wichita operations in May, having collected the full $3 million in authorized city subsidies. The company said at the time it would need more than the $1.5 million the city guaranteed for its second year of operations.

Mayans said that his request of Moore -- that the state provide the money from lottery revenues or the state general fund -- was justified because the state had eliminated $6 million in revenue sharing to the city of Wichita this year.

Plus, Mayans said, slightly more than half of the travelers who pass through Mid-Continent Airport live outside Wichita. That makes affordable air service as much a state obligation as it is the city's, he said.

In 2001, when Mayans was a state representative, he pushed for the state to contribute up to $5 million in Kansas Lottery proceeds to subsidize air service in Wichita. His proposal won House approval but failed in the Senate.

AirTran has a contract to provide service in Wichita through May 8, 2004, but it can be canceled with 30 days notice, Mayans said.

Shortly after being elected mayor in April, Mayans said city leaders had been overly optimistic about AirTran ridership, given the downturn in Wichita's economy.

AirTran offers two daily flights to Atlanta. When it began serving Wichita, it had three daily flights to Atlanta as well as two to Chicago.

The city also subsidizes Frontier's JetExpress.

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