Affordable airfare may be grounded in the future

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A program that has helped bring lower airfares to Wichita and Garden City might be grounded after fiscal year 2016, at the urging of program officials.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed reducing the current $5 million in state funding for the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program to $4 million in fiscal year 2016 and $3 million the next fiscal year.

Program spokesman Jason Watkins said it will propose ending the state funding after fiscal year 2016, The Wichita Eagle reported.

“We have always said to our partners in the state Legislature and the governor’s office, ‘We need some short-term help to establish a program and get it on solid ground and then we can move forward with whatever is established,'” Watkins said.

In Wichita, Southwest Airlines is paid the difference each month that total costs exceed revenue. Southwest lost money during its first eight months of service, from July 2013 to February 2014, and received the full subsidy of $6.5 million. The state provided a grant of $4.75 million, with $1.75 million in local funds split between the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County.

Garden City’s airport gets $500,000 from the program, Watkins said.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Dan Landson said the company was aware of Brownback’s proposal but it was too early to comment on any possible impact.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the city would evaluate whether it can keep contributing to the fund, taking into account the budget shortfall.

Watkins said he doesn’t believe ending the program will affect Southwest Airline’s presence in Wichita. He said the airline needed initial help but that its marketing should be sufficiently successful to end the need for government assistance.

But Mike Boyd, an airline consultant with the Boyd Group, is not as optimistic. The company is expanding its flights from or to other airports and the percentage of seats filled on flights in Wichita last year “weren’t stellar,” Boyd said.



Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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