House Passes Wichita Airfare Subsidies

The House on Friday approved spending $5 million of state money to reduce the price of flying out of Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport.

The bill passed 100-25 and will be debated by a conference committee. A similar bill passed the Senate last month.

"This is definitely new economic development for the city of Wichita," said Rep. Delia Garcia, D-Wichita. "And the cool thing about Affordable Airfares is that it's a nonpartisan thing."

The proposal will use $5 million of state money and $1 million of local government money to subsidize a low-cost carrier out of Mid-Continent.

The state money will come either from profits on the sale of lottery tickets, which by law are to be used for economic development, or from the general fund, which is fed by taxes. That detail needs to be worked out in conference committee.

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce president Bryan Derreberry said he's pleased the Legislature recognizes how crucial Mid-Continent is, not only to the region, but to two-thirds of Kansas.

Kansas businesses "can't grow in the 21st century without affordable and convenient air service," Derreberry said.

At one time, businesses had "drive-to markets," he said. But business has changed, and now they have "fly-to markets."

"It's imperative that communities have this kind of access to markets," Derreberry said.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is familiar with the bill but won't make any decisions about whether to sign it until it reaches her desk, said her spokeswoman, Megan Ingmire.

Getting the state to help pay for low-cost service at Mid-Continent was the top legislative priority this session for Wichita and Sedgwick County officials, the Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Area Economic Partnership, a coalition of south-central Kansas communities.

The city and county have contributed millions of dollars to keep AirTran Airways, a low-cost carrier, operating at Mid-Continent.

Wichita officials began lobbying Sebelius as early as December to press their point that quality air service is an economic development issue that should be supported by the state.

Wichita Eagle

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