Garden City pursuit of flights to Wichita stalls

GARDEN CITY — Discussion that began among city officials late last fall about possible flights from Garden City Regional Airport to Wichita is currently at a standstill, according to city and airport officials.

"We're definitely still interested in the project, but the city's not willing to make a commitment right now," said Rachelle Powell, Garden City Regional Airport's director of aviation. "The timing's all off, and funding sources are scarce."

Powell met with city officials earlier this month to present an intrastate air service feasibility study paid for by Garden City and other communities interested in attracting an airline that could provide flights to and from their cities to Wichita.

The study demonstrates that it would be cheaper to drive than to fly from places like Garden City, Liberal and Dodge City to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, which has 40 daily flights to 12 destinations. However, public interest in the project remains because flying is a time-saving alternative, and intrastate air service would provide that option from places like Garden City to the state's capital, Powell said.

"There is interest in the community to have this service, but we're always cautious because we have to weigh the public's best interest, as well," she said.

Currently, no air service connects Wichita to the rest of the state, though Kansas boasts one of the largest national highway systems in the United States, according to the study.

Garden City commissioners have said they hoped to continue to keep the possibility of intrastate air service on the table, even while other Kansas communities, including Liberal, Topeka, Hays and Great Bend, have dropped out due to a lack of public support.

At their Oct. 6 public meeting, commissioners agreed to stay a part of the discussion even as they acknowledged sources of funding such a project would be problematic.

"There is a need for a subsidy, and if we want it bad enough, we'll need to figure out how to subsidize," Commissioner Reynaldo Mesa said, adding that communication with airport officials in the other communities was a key goal over the next two years.

Despite commissioners' interest, Powell said she does not believe the topic could be seriously broached for a few more years.

McClatchy Regional News