Cities, Airports Coast-To-Coast Eyeing The Concept Of Paying An
Airline To Fly Into Town
All across America, local governments and airports alike are
keeping close tabs on Wichita's battle with the FAA over the city's
multimillion dollar subsidies to AirTran. In the meantime, the
clock is ticking on a 30-day deadline under which the FAA has
ordered Wichita to "remedy" the situation.
As ANN reported earlier this month, the FAA sent
Wichita city leaders a six-page letter saying the $7 million
they've spent to subsidize AirTran's daily service to
Atlanta. Wichita calls that good business sense --
lowering fares for thousands of passengers. But the FAA calls it
"unjust discrimination," saying the city favoring of one airline
City officials say the subsidies don't come from Mid-Continent
Airport, but from Wichita itself. The FAA counters that, since the
Airport Authority Board was disbanded by the City Council in 1999,
the council itself runs the airport. While the City Council does
make all airport-related decisions, lawmakers say they do so under
a banner separate from the council itself.
"The water has been muddied quite a
bit by the FAA's position on Wichita," said Mike Boggs, at Meade
& Hunt. He was quoted by the Wichita Eagle.
The venerable Wichita paper reports it's not unusual for local
governments to pay airlines for serving their markets.
"I'm trying to think of an airport where it hasn't happened,"
Darryl Jenkins, visiting professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University in Daytona Beach, FL, told the Eagle. "Without that, you
would not have any low-cost service in a lot of markets."
But the FAA's problem seems to center on an airport entity
favoring one carrier over another. The agency has threatened
Wichita's federal airport grants are at stake. We're talking
millions of dollars here.
"It's premature to talk about any sanctions or action that might
or might not be taken under the compliance process since the city
still hasn't explained its most recent action to us," FAA spokesman
Paul Turk told the Wichita paper.