Wichita — The city will pay AirTran Airways $607,952 to make up the discount carrier's losses from providing service between Wichita and Atlanta from May through September.
The payment will be made under an agreement that brought AirTran service to Wichita last year.
"We certainly wish we didn't have to do what we're doing," said Wichita's director of airports, Bailis Bell. "But we understand they're still developing the market, and we're living up to our end of the deal."
The entrance of AirTran, Frontier JetExpress and Allegiant Air into the Wichita market over the past two years ushered in an era of lower fares and increased traffic at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
The discount carriers have saved travelers more than $80 million in fares, with AirTran accounting for $67 million of the savings, according to the city's calculations.
Still, the sluggish local economy is holding down traffic growth for AirTran and for Mid-Continent, Bell said.
"We would hope that the entire airport were doing better right now," Bell said.
AirTran's bill this month is the first time the Orlando, Fla.-based carrier has applied for part of the subsidies -- up to $1.5 million -- it is eligible to receive during its second year of business in Wichita.
The city offered the subsidies as a way to help woo the carrier to Wichita, where it began service from Mid-Continent Airport on May 7, 2002. Last year, the city paid AirTran $3 million for losses incurred from May through September, the maximum for which it was eligible in its first year of operation here.
This year, 7,594 passengers flew on AirTran's Wichita-Atlanta route in September, filling 52 percent of available seats. Its best month was July, when it carried 12,332 passengers on the Wichita-Atlanta route, filling 83 percent of the available seats.