Southwest Airlines is analyzing Wichita market, city manager says

Southwest Airlines is in the midst of developing a business model for service in Wichita, city manager Robert Layton said.

"They are doing their own market analysis," Layton said. "They've done a lot of information-gathering and now are in the process of analyzing."

The carrier is doing the same with other communities, "not just Wichita," Layton said.

Southwest Airlines officials have previously confirmed that they have had conversations with Wichita about starting air service at Mid-Continent Airport.

Layton, airport staff and Mayor Carl Brewer are answering questions the airline may have about starting service in Wichita, including information about the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program, Layton said.

Under the program, the state, city and Sedgwick County provide revenue guarantees to promote low-cost service at Mid-Continent.

Sources have said Southwest is seeking $3 million to help with start-up costs and at least two years of additional money for revenue guarantees.

However, Layton said he didn't know what the airline's needs will be.

"So we are preparing some contingencies so we'll be able to address what they ask of us on a quick time frame," he said.

Southwest is considering three routes from Wichita, including nonstop flights to Dallas' Love Field and Las Vegas. A third flight would be nonstop to St. Louis and then continue to Chicago, which is Southwest's top city for daily departures.

Southwest must decide by the fall on its routes for 2011.

Layton said he's also trying to put together a financial plan that would meet the need of all of the airport's low-cost carriers.

The affordable airfares program currently provides subsidies to AirTran Airways and Frontier.

A contract with Frontier will provide $333,000 in revenue guarantees through September.

AirTran Airways has a contract to receive up to $6.5 million in revenue guarantees to help underwrite losses during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011.

Under the contract, the state would provide $4.875 million, and the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County would each contribute $812,500.

AirTran has received incentives every year since it started service in Wichita in 2002. The airline provides three daily flights from Wichita to its Atlanta hub and has a Saturday nonstop flight to Orlando.

"It's important to maintain our carriers if we can," Layton said. "I just don't know what it's going to look like."

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