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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gov. urges planemakers to remain in Air Capital

BY MOLLY MCMILLIN
The Wichita Eagle

When it comes to Wichita's aviation industry, "the future has not been canceled," Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson said Wednesday.

Kansas has weathered economic recessions in the past and will come out of this one, he said.

"We will see good times again," Parkinson told members of the Wichita Aero Club at a luncheon at the Wichita Airport Hilton.

Parkinson, a Wichita native, proclaimed this month Aviation Appreciation Month.

The world's demographics are on aviation's side, he said.

There are 700 million people who will join the middle class in India, other Asian countries and Brazil, and the demand for air travel will increase with that growth.

In addition, China eventually will open up regulations restricting air travel.

Parkinson made three requests from the aircraft industry, whose members were well represented at the luncheon.

He asked the industry to come together with a "unified purpose" and agenda when it lobbies Topeka instead of lobbying separately.

He asked them to support aviation assets such as Wichita State University's engineering department, its National Institute for Aviation Research and the technical training center.

Lastly, Parkinson said he recognizes that other states want to poach jobs away from Kansas.

They often offer incentives so big that economically "they don't even make sense" for their states, Parkinson said.

For the companies, he knows it's ultimately a business decision.

But if incentives are close to those offered here, "please stay in Wichita," he said. "Because what we have here is very special."

And years from now, "people can still call Wichita the Air Capital of the World."

After the speech, Parkinson was asked whether the Kansas Legislature would approve subsidies to AirTran Airways this year.

The Legislature agreed to provide $5 million every year for five years to help guarantee the airline against losses and keep it in Wichita. The subsidies are set to expire June 30, 2011. The Legislature must appropriate the money each year.

Wichita and Sedgwick County provide $1 million apiece.

The state's funds are "significantly at risk," Parkinson said.

Some legislators don't want to approve the money because of current budget woes, he said.

Still, he thinks in "all probability" the money will be approved.

In the more than seven years AirTran has been in the Wichita market, it has not turned an annual profit and has had to tap into the entire amount of the subsidy, city officials have said.

Without it, AirTran would have to reconsider its decision to be in Wichita, the airline's CEO and president Bob Fornaro said in June, when he was the club's guest speaker.

Before AirTran's arrival, Wichita's fares were the 10th-highest in the nation, airport officials have said.

AirTran began service in Wichita in May 2002. It has three daily flights to Atlanta.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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