Wichita Mid-Continent Airport Traffic Sees Uptick

The number of passengers using Wichita Mid-Continent Airport rose 5 percent in March, airport officials told the airport's advisory board Monday.

Traffic for the year has risen nearly 2 percent overall this year.

"We hope to see that trend continue," interim airport director Tom Nolan said.

The board also voted Monday to endorse an expansion of the airport development director's duties. That job came open last month.

Besides helping to develop air service, responsibilities would include business development, Nolan said.

Advertising agency Sullivan Higdon & Sink, which was hired by the city to develop a campaign to increase traffic at the airport, gave the board results of a survey it took of local air travelers.

The goal was "to get a better idea of who our customers are," said Lathi da Silva, the project manager.

Of the more than 400 respondents, 47 drove to airports outside Kansas for flights. The primary reason cited was that the respondent lived closer to those other airports.

Respondents with household incomes over $100,000 said they flew from Wichita because it saved time, and those 35 or older were more likely to consider how air service helped the Wichita economy, da Silva said.

The information will be used to help develop a marketing campaign to run from June through October, she said.

Other issues discussed at the meeting included:

The proposed 2005-07 airport operations budget. Revenues for 2005 are projected to total $16.18 million with expenses of $11.60 million.

A plan to meet with five airlines -- some now serving Wichita and some new ones -- at an annual mid-June air service development conference in Calgary, Alberta. Advisory board chairman Tim Austin will attend with Nolan.

A suggestion to the city that it return to an independent airport authority with its own decision-making powers.

"We stand ready," board member Dave Murfin said.

Until 1999, the airport authority was mostly independent of city government.

One suggestion is to make it a regional board, Austin said.

But he doesn't expect quick action on the idea.

Since the change, board members have often discussed their desire to return to the old system.

Interest in the idea has renewed since the Federal Aviation Administration sent a letter to the city saying that city subsidies to AirTran Airways could discriminate against other airlines serving Wichita.

One FAA official indicated that the city could avoid charges of discrimination if it had an airport authority that's independent of the City Council, but another FAA official later contradicted that and said the problem is the city subsidy, not the governance structure.

The city has said it will defend its position. The FAA has given the city until May 16 to say how it plans to remedy the situation.

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