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Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Wichita airport attracts record number of fliers

January 15, 2004

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— Discount carriers helped draw a record number of travelers to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport in 2003, airport officials said.

In 2003, 1.432 million airline passengers used the airport, beating its previous high of 1.428 million in 1996. That was the year when Wichita had service from low-fare carrier Vanguard Airlines, which has since gone out of business.

The growth in air travel comes as city officials put up operating subsidies and other inducements to lure discount carriers to the airport.

Earlier this month, Wichita airport development director Steve Flesher briefed lawmakers from south-central Kansas on a plan to make the city a hub for air travelers from across the state, along with expanding low-fare service from Wichita to more of the nation's large airports.

Organizers of the four-year, $52.5 million "Fair Fares II" plan say those passengers would then have access to Mid-Continent Airport's expanding service and low fares.

The proposal is the second phase of a Wichita initiative called Fair Fares that brought discount carriers AirTran Airways, Frontier JetExpress and Allegiant Airlines to Mid-Continent.

Airport director Bailis Bell called the record traffic in 2003 "fantastic."

"That's all the result of the Fair Fares campaign and its stimulation of activity in response to the low-fare service at Mid-Continent Airport," he said.

But there are signs the growth is leveling off. Passenger traffic was down in December 2003 compared with the previous year. And the overall 7 percent growth rate for Mid-Continent's passenger traffic in 2003 was less than half the growth rate in 2002.

"I don't know why," Bell said of the decline.

Some members of the Wichita Airport Advisory Board, which met Monday, said one explanation could be apprehension after the Department of Homeland Security raised the threat level to orange.

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