Witchita, Kan. Not Interested in Offering Subsidy to Delta

The city is not interested in giving Delta Air Lines the same $2.5 million subsidy it gives a competing airline, despite Delta's offer to add daily nonstop flights to Orlando, Fla.

Mayor Carlos Mayans said Tuesday that the city does not have the money to spend this year on another subsidy that size and that it would be difficult to budget that much in the future.

He and council member Paul Gray said more flights to the East Coast would not give Wichitans a new travel choice and would not be worth the money.

"It's very similar to what we're already paying for," Gray said.

Flights heading west, however, could be a different story.

"That's something we'd definitely look into with interest," Gray said.

Delta Air Lines did not comment Tuesday.

The airline says the city is engaging in economic discrimination by providing a subsidy to AirTran only.

The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to Delta's complaint, has challenged the city's support of AirTran. The agency has given the city until Monday to respond to its preliminary finding that the AirTran subsidy discriminates against other airlines serving Wichita.

Wichita City Council members met in closed session Tuesday to discuss Delta's offer.

Gray said Delta's proposal was ambiguous, and council members directed staff to contact the airline for more details.

Council members want to know more about what the proposed subsidy's economic development benefit would be to Wichita, he said.

"If there is an economic benefit to the community, it's something we'll consider," he said.

Mayans also said that Delta was not clear about what its rate structure would be and whether the airline would seek the agreement for more than one year.

The city began subsidizing AirTran in 2002 to lower airfares in and out of Wichita. Other airlines serving Wichita dropped their fares on similar routes to compete with AirTran, but did not receive subsidies.

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.

AirTran began offering a Saturday-only nonstop service to Orlando in November. AirTran also offers daily flights to Atlanta, which is less than 500 miles northwest of Orlando.