Area Leaders Push For Witchita Air Subsidies

Wichita business leaders appealed Thursday for state subsidies to keep low-cost carrier AirTran Airways flying in and out of Mid-Continent Airport.

They are seeking a $5 million-a-year state commitment to be matched with $1 million contributed by local governments and businesses.

"We need a long-term solution to level the playing field when it comes to air transportation in Kansas," said Lyndon Wells, executive vice president of Intrust Bank and chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Local subsidies of AirTran over the past four years have generated $8.7 million in revenue for the state through increased sales and corporate and income taxes by boosting passenger travel 24 percent, he said.

A bill pending before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would earmark $5 million in Kansas Lottery proceeds for Mid-Continent each of the next five years.

Derek Kennedy, vice president of Cargill Meat Solutions, said the company's employees make hundreds of trips each year to Cargill plants and to call on customers around the world. The company employs 800 people at its corporate headquarters, 2,700 at its Dodge City beef plant and 32,000 worldwide.

"The state's benefit is more economic development, more employees, more flights in Kansas and ultimately more taxes paid in from all these efforts," he said.

Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, questioned whether airfares were a significant factor for most businesses.

But Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said that when she previously worked as a convention scheduler, Wichita often was off-limits because of high airfares.

"The cost of getting those professionals in was just too high," she said.

Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said the committee could act on the bill, Senate Bill 475, next week.

Wichita Eagle

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