Wichita airfares drop 18% since 2000, officials say

Wichita Mid-Continent Airport has had the country's 11th-largest decrease in airfares since 2000, city officials said Thursday.

The announcement comes as legislators remain deadlocked on whether to continue state funding for the program credited with lowering fares.

Wichita's average airfare in the fourth quarter was $345, a few dollars higher than the national fourth-quarter average of $337, but less than the average fare of $367 in Oklahoma City and $360 in Tulsa, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics' fourth quarter 2010 domestic airfare study, the report said.

While fares at Kansas City's airport are less than Wichita's, the gap has narrowed.

In 2000, the average fare difference between Wichita and Kansas City was $138. That difference has fallen to $41. Kansas City's average fare in the fourth quarter was $304.

Wichita's fourth-quarter fares rose 4.9 percent from 2009, in line with the U.S. average increase of 5 percent.

Still, fares are 18 percent less than in 2000, when Wichita's average fare was $419 and the U.S. average fare was $340.

The study said Wichita ranked 43rd in average fares among the 100 busiest airports.

The state has budgeted $5 million a year to help subsidize lower-cost airlines in Wichita. Continued funding was still uncertain Thursday.

The House's version of the state's budget does not include the $5 million recommended in Gov. Sam Brownback's budget and included in the Senate version.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and chair of Senate budget committee, reiterated the importance of the Affordable Airfares program during a break on the Senate floor Thursday.

"We still have a lot of issues on the table," she said. "But this is about jobs and the economy. (Affordable Airfares) is one of the funding items that help keep us competitive in a global market. It keeps current businesses here, and it creates a very friendly business environment."

Wichita and Sedgwick County leaders remain hopeful the program will find money from the state.

"We look forward to a continuation of this highly successful program," Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said in a news release. "It lowers fares and is an important investment that brings money back into the state coffers and benefits all Kansans with better airline service and improved economic benefits."