FAA Gives Wichita More Time to Defend AirTran Subsidy

The Federal Aviation Administration has given the City of Wichita more time to respond to a preliminary finding that giving AirTran Airways millions in subsidies discriminates against other airlines serving Wichita.

Last month, the FAA gave the city 30 days to say how it will remedy the situation after Delta Air Lines claimed the city was engaging in economic discrimination by providing a subsidiary to AirTran, only.

The FAA had requested that the city respond by May 6.

The city, which took over control of the airport in 1999, subsequently requested a 30-day extension. The FAA granted a 10-day extension. The city's response is now due on May 16, the agency said.

Last week, city manager George Kolb said the city was gathering information and formulating a response. He said the city would defend its position that it has not done anything wrong.

AirTran's lower fares have spurred more traffic at Wichita Mid Continent Airport, and that has benefited the other airlines, including Delta, who operate there, Kolb said.

To date, the city has given AirTran $7 million in revenue guarantees. Earlier this month, despite complaints from Delta Air Lines officials, the city approved another $2.5 million in subsidiaries for a fourth year of service. The county, for the first time, is adding $1 million to support AirTran's service at Mid-Continent airport.

The FAA makes grants to airports for airport development projects. To receive the funds, airports must agree to a variety of conditions, including the nondiscrimination assurance.

In a letter to the city dated April 6, the FAA said that treating Delta and AirTran differently could constitute a violation of an assurance of nondiscrimination.

At risk is future FAA grant money that helps fund Mid-Continent airport.