Since AirTran began service at Mid-Continent in May 2002, other airlines have lowered fares to compete. As a result, the number of passengers using the airport has dramatically increased.
But AirTran is not getting its share of the market, Williams said.
Last year, 110,967 passengers flew AirTran from Wichita. That's down from 128,682 who used AirTran in 2003.
The airline industry has struggled in recent years and only three U.S. carriers made money last year -- Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and AirTran, officials pointed out.
Should AirTran pull out of Wichita, it would be difficult to recruit another discount carrier, they said. Southwest's plan is to expand business in cities much larger than Wichita, while JetBlue primarily serves the East Coast.
AirTran, in fact, is no longer looking at cities the size of Wichita when it starts up new service.
Wichita has gotten a tremendous return on its investment in AirTran thus far, said Headley, the WSU professor.
"Overall, this is the best return on tax dollars spent in a long, long time," he said.
The city offered AirTran $4.5 million in revenue guarantees for its first two years in Wichita to underwrite potential losses. It offered another $2.5 million for its third year of business.
Witchita business and city leaders say travelers have saved about $85 million because of AirTran's entry into the market in 2002.
Under the program, businesses that sign up for AirTran's frequent-flier program will earn free flights at twice the pace on travel taken in October, November, January or February.
Wichita-area businesses have pledged nearly $500,000 to fund an initiative to enhance AirTran Airways frequent flier program.
AirTran fills Frontier void; Will fly Memphis- Florida routes starting Jan. 11, evaluate other destinations
AirTran Airways is picking up the Memphis-Florida routes Frontier Airlines was forced to abandon when oil hit $95 a barrel. Starting Jan. 11, Atlanta-based AirTran will add weekend service...