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Archive for Sunday, May 29, 2005

Delta dropping seven Wichita flights amid spat over subsidies

May 29, 2005

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— Delta Air Lines, which has been battling the city over subsidies given to rival Air Tran Airways, has announced it is dropping seven of its daily flights from Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport.

The discontinued flights include three to Salt Lake City, two to Cincinnati and two to Atlanta, airport director Tom Nolan said. The move takes effect July 1.

The city rejected an offer from Delta earlier this month to add daily nonstop flights to Orlando, Fla., in exchange for the same $2.5 million annual subsidy the city gives to AirTran. Delta officials say the subsidies create a competitive disadvantage for their airline in Wichita.

"Frankly, Delta cannot compete on a route where a competing carrier is being subsidized," Delta spokesman John Kennedy said.

Delta is the only carrier offering direct flights from Wichita to Salt Lake City and Cincinnati. Nolan said he doesn't know if travelers to those cities will have to pay higher rates to fly there after the other flights are dropped.

Last week, the city sent a strongly worded letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has said the AirTran subsidies discriminate against other airlines that serve the community.

In that letter, Wichita officials said they would no more subsidize Delta Air Lines than a shepherd would feed a wolf "so that the wolf can get bigger and stronger and slaughter more sheep."

The city accuses Delta of overcharging local travelers for years, and says a subsidy to that airline would help it drive AirTran out of Wichita.

City Manager George Kolb issued a statement Thursday saying Delta has served Wichita for years, and he hopes it will continue to do so.

"I recognize the FAA has yet to resolve the recent disagreement between the city and Delta," he said. "The city stands firm on its position that providing operating revenue guarantees to AirTran is within its right and serves the community's best interest."

So far, the city has given AirTran $7 million, and earlier this month approved another $2.5 million in subsidies. Sedgwick County is giving AirTran another $1 million to support the airline's service at Mid-Continent Airport.

Nolan said the loss of the seven Delta flights will leave the airport with 49 daily outbound flights.

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