The FAA first said that one way to fix the problem may be to make the Airport Authority separate from the city, then later said that may not be enough to solve the problem. Another option is to stop subsidizing AirTran.
Wichita has argued that the Airport Authority and city government are separate, which would allow the city to subsidize any airline it chooses.
It also argued that the subsidy comes from city funds, not airport funds, and that a subsidy is reasonable because fares have dropped 30 percent and passenger traffic has increased 33 percent.
But favoring one route and fares over another does not justify a financial incentive that "favors one carrier over another," the FAA said.
The FAA has scrutinized other subsidy deals.
Last year, the FAA reportedly was looking into whether Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport was in violation when it agreed to subsidize startup costs for Vacation Express to begin service from the Pennsylvania airport to Orlando, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. The airport reportedly has lobbied the FAA to relax its prohibition on airlines subsidies.
And in 1996, the FAA investigated subsidies the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority gave TWA and Midway airlines to lure them to that Pennsylvania airport. The FAA began its review after USAir, United, Delta and Northwest airlines complained.
Ultimately, the agreements ran out and "everybody lost interest in the case," said airport authority executive director George Doughty.
Lehigh-Northhampton has not since offered airlines subsidies, he said. Instead, it has paid for marketing programs.
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After more than a week of silence, AirTran Airways called Delta Air Lines' claim that Wichita's subsidy to AirTran amounts to economic discrimination "bullying tactics."
The city of Wichita would probably have "no problem" subsidizing AirTran Airways if a separate airport authority were still running Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, a Federal Aviation Administration...
The FAA views the multimillion dollar AirTran subsidy as an unacceptable case of economic discrimination against other airlines.