Delta to Cut Seven Flights from Wichita

Delta Air Lines will discontinue seven of its daily flights from Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport beginning July 1, city officials said Thursday.

Those flights include three to Salt Lake City, two to Cincinnati and two to Atlanta, airport director Tom Nolan said.

Delta and the city have fought for months over subsidies the city gives to AirTran Airways.

Earlier this month, the city rejected Delta's offer to add daily nonstop flights to Orlando, Fla., in exchange for the same $2.5 million annual subsidy the city gives AirTran.

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

He said the decision to reduce service was "made after careful consideration on behalf of our customers and our employees."

Delta is the only carrier to offer direct flights from Wichita to Salt Lake City and Cincinnati, Nolan said. It's unclear whether travelers to those cities will have to pay a higher rate to fly there, he said.

"There's too many dynamics in the industry to even attempt to calculate," he said.

Four remaining daily Delta flights to Atlanta will remain. The airline has not specified which two departing times it will no longer offer, Nolan said.

Nolan said he first learned of Delta's plans during a midday phone call from an official with Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta subsidiary that handles its Wichita flights. Nolan said neither the official nor Delta gave a reason for the discontinuation.

"We have not heard from Delta," Mayor Carlos Mayans said.

The announcement comes one week after the city sent a strongly worded six-page letter to the Federal Aviation Administration blasting the FAA's preliminary finding that giving AirTran Airways millions in subsidies discriminates against other airlines serving the community.

The city said that it 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 letter says that the city shouldn't have to subsidize Delta, which has overcharged Wichita fliers for years. A subsidy would give Delta money to drive AirTran out of Wichita and give Delta a monopoly again, the letter said.

In a statement released late Thursday, City Manager George Kolb said that Delta has served Wichita for years, and he hopes it continues to do so.

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

To date, the city has given AirTran $7 million. Earlier this month, the city approved another $2.5 million in subsidies for a fourth year of service, despite complaints from Delta. Sedgwick County, for the first time, is adding $1 million to support AirTran's service at Mid-Continent Airport.

Nolan said that it's unclear how many passengers use the seven flights Delta is discontinuing. The airline provides the airport with a monthly total of passengers it handles but does not provide numbers for specific flights or cities.

The city will not know the impact of the change until early August, Nolan said, when officials are able to compare July 2005 numbers to July 2004.

He said that the loss of the seven flights will reduce Wichita's daily outbound flight total to 49.