Sedgwick County commissioners approve AirTran subsidy

07/11/2012 5:00 AM

07/11/2012 11:00 PM

Sedgwick County commissioners approved a subsidy to guarantee lower airfares for another year on Wednesday.

Commissioners Karl Peterjohn, Tim Norton, Dave Unruh and Jim Skelton voted in favor of the subsidy for AirTran Airways, and to continue a transportation agreement between Wichita and Sedgwick County.

The Affordable Airfares agreement requires Wichita to pay half of the AirTran contract after state funding, said Chris Chronis, Sedgwick County’s chief financial officer.

The state is chipping in up to $4.75 million. The city and county will contribute up to $1.75 million, or up to $875,000 each.

Norton recalled traveling to other cities in the past because of lower airfares. He agreed to “hang on” and support the subsidy until Southwest Airlines is flying out of Wichita, he said. AirTran, which has been bought by Southwest Airlines, is expected to transition its Wichita operations to Southwest in 2013.

Peterjohn expressed some concern over the contracts becoming routine.

“The program was intended, at least initially intended, to be a temporary program,” Peterjohn said. “I plan to support this motion here because the original intent was to try and bring Southwest Airlines to this community.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau voted against the subsidy and the agreement, saying it creates dependence and a sense of entitlement. Ranzau also called the agreement a form of indirect price control.

Airfares in Wichita and southeast Kansas were among the highest in the country in 2002, and several businesses left because of that, Chronis said. The city enticed AirTran to Wichita and, in 2005, Sedgwick County joined Wichita’s agreement with AirTran and began managing the contract.

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