Passenger traffic flat at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport in 2013

Air travelers line up for tickets and to check their luggage at Mid-Continent Airport in November.
Air travelers line up for tickets and to check their luggage at Mid-Continent Airport in November. File photo

The number of passengers using Wichita Mid-Continent Airport was flat for 2013.

The number of passengers flying in and out of the airport totaled 1.512 million, up less than 1 percent from 1.509 million in 2012.

December traffic at the airport, however, rose 16 percent with 134,000 passengers, compared to 115,595 in December a year ago.

Traffic increased in December in part because of a late Thanksgiving. That meant some holiday travel spilled into December, said Valerie Wise, Wichita Airport Authority air service and business development manager.

Frontier Airlines left the Wichita market in November 2012 as the airline reduced its presence in a variety of markets.

The absence of Frontier gives a more accurate picture of Southwest Airline’s positive impact in the market, Wise said.

In June, AirTran Airways stopped service from Wichita to Atlanta, as Southwest Airlines, which acquired AirTran, began service to Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas.

With Southwest in the market, fares were down and traffic was up from Wichita to the Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas markets, Wise said.

Traffic increased an average of 80 percent to those markets in the third quarter, compared to the first quarter in 2013, Wise said. At the same time, fares declined 24 percent.

“We’re seeing impact in traffic to the individual markets that Southwest is serving,” Wise said.

Those are large markets, said Dean Headley, Wichita State University associate professor of marketing who co-authors an annual Quality Airline Ratings report.

“In Dallas and Vegas, they can make it on volume,” Headley said. There, volumes are high and margins are low.

“They don’t have to make their money on an individual sale,” he said. “It’s the Wal-Mart approach.”

AirTran’s exit in the Atlanta market from Wichita had a negative impact on fares and traffic.

Nonstop fares to Atlanta in the third quarter rose 37 percent from the first quarter in 2013, Wise said. Traffic dropped 23 percent. Delta is now the only carrier providing nonstop service from Wichita to Atlanta.

With the shift, “you’re going to see a shifting in our markets and our top destinations,” Wise said. “I think you will see Dallas and Chicago move up in the rankings. You can easily fly to those markets. And usually fares stimulate traffic to those destinations.”

Headley agrees there will be a shift.

“All the Atlanta volume ended up in Dallas or some other connecting route,” Headley said. “You take away the availability to go the busiest airport in the world (Atlanta), you take that out of the market, that volume will go somewhere.”

It’s now going to Dallas, he said.

When it comes to overall passenger numbers at Mid-Continent, the traffic parallels the economy, Wise said.

“When the economy is strong, people travel,” Wise said. “When the economy is weak, businesses tend to cut travel. ... What we’re seeing with our traffic is in line with what’s going on with the economy. At least it’s flat. It’s not down.”

The fact that travel is flat doesn’t surprise Headley.

“We threw Southwest in; we took AirTran out of the hopper. We took Frontier out of the hopper. We lost business; we gained business,” he said. “We’ve not had a similar year from one year to the next.”

Although it’s flat, the market is at a fairly healthy level in Wichita, Headley said.

“We’re not underutilized,” he said. “If our business base is stable to shrinking, which I think it probably is, it doesn’t surprise me that we would have a flat air travel volume as well.”

Boeing is in the midst of closing its Wichita facility.

And Cessna parent company Textron’s acquisition of Beechcraft could lead to some job eliminations, especially in the middle management and upper ranks.

That will affect Wichita air travel.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle