Riders Out of Wichita on AirTran Up; Rest of '05 Nearly Level

From May through November, AirTran used $1.65 million of the $2.5 million the city pledged in revenue guarantees against monthly losses for 12 months beginning May 8.

The number of passengers flying in and out of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport was roughly the same in 2005 as it was in 2004, city officials said Thursday.

Passenger traffic on low-cost carrier AirTran Airways, though, was up 25 percent compared with a year ago. But the airline is still not profitable serving Mid-Continent, the city said.

From May through November, AirTran used $1.65 million of the $2.5 million the city pledged in revenue guarantees against monthly losses for 12 months beginning May 8, according to the city.

Sedgwick County added another $1 million in guarantees for the same period. It has not yet given AirTran any money.

"The subsidies and AirTran and the community hanging in there have paid dividends" in lower fares and better air service, Wichita City Manager George Kolb said Thursday.

"We are accomplishing our outcomes. We hope that trend will continue upward because at some point AirTran is going to have to make it on their own."

The city committed $9.5 million in subsidies from the time AirTran began service in Wichita in 2002 through May 8, 2006, when the current contract expires. So far, AirTran has received $8.65 million.

The number of passengers flying AirTran in and out of Wichita totaled 139,707 last year, compared with 110,967 in 2004.

Passengers arriving at and departing from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport last year totaled 1.487 million, compared with 1.499 million in 2004, a drop of less than 1 percent.

"We're thrilled that the numbers were basically the same as 2004," which was a record year, said director of airports Victor White.

The numbers of flights, available seats and destinations are down from last year, White said.

But with major air carriers filing for bankruptcy protection and service cutbacks across the country, he said, Wichita's numbers don't look all that bad by comparison.

"The airline business is in a terrific state of flux," White said. "Every airport in the country is facing similar issues. The competition is really tough out there."

In May, the number of daily flights from Wichita totaled 56, a high for the year. That figure has dropped to 42.

Wichita lost three nonstop destinations last year: Cincinnati, Salt Lake City and Detroit.

"Despite some of those negative things, we still ended up in pretty good shape," White said.

But, he said, "We're never satisfied with the situation the way it is and we want it to be better. We're talking to airlines constantly and working it."

Wichita Eagle

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