Politics & Government

Could Wichita land Delta after NRA flap in Georgia? Kansas lawmaker extends invite

A Delta Air Lines Inc. McDonnell Douglas MD-90 airplane.
A Delta Air Lines Inc. McDonnell Douglas MD-90 airplane. Bloomberg

A Kansas lawmaker says if Georgia doesn’t want Delta after its scrap with the National Rifle Association, the international airline would be more than welcome in Wichita.

“Hey @Delta, if the peach state isn't treating you right I'd love to show you around our new airport in #Wichita,” Rep. Brandon Whipple said in a Facebook post. “We're the Air Capital of the World, with mid-west values, an amazing work force, & access to world class universities. My #ksleg (Kansas Legislature) friends & I would love to talk.”

Contacted Thursday, Whipple said he’s serious and would work to facilitate any Delta presence, up to and including moving its headquarters from Atlanta.

“I think Wichita would be a good home for whatever Delta’s needs might be,” Whipple said.

To establish a major presence in Wichita, the company’s two biggest needs would be educated business people and trained aircraft maintenance personnel, Whipple said.

“If you looked at Wichita objectively, we meet both of those,” he said.

What brought on this idea is a schism in Georgia, with Delta on one side and the state Legislature and NRA on the other.

In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Florida that killed 17 — and a bitter debate over gun control — Delta on Saturday canceled a program offering discounted airfares to NRA members traveling to the association’s annual meeting.

“Delta’s decision reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings,” the company said in a statement. “Delta supports all of its customers but will not support organizations on any side of any highly charged political issue that divides our nation.”

That sparked a backlash in the pro-gun Georgia Legislature, where a Senate committee scrapped a planned tax break that would have saved Delta $50 million on fuel costs. The company is based in Atlanta and the airport there is its main hub.

While the Kansas Legislature is as pro-gun or more so than Georgia, Whipple said he thinks his colleagues would put that aside if they could bring significant jobs and commerce to the state.

“I don’t think any serious leader would let their political views get in the way of an economic opportunity,” he said. “Georgia apparently did. That might be how they do business in Georgia, but here in Kansas, we focus on the people when it comes to companies. We don’t focus on our own knee-jerk political reactions.”

Whipple is the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.

“I’m sure if we got someone from a company like Delta who was interested in taking a look at our state, those are the type of conversations that we on the committee would love to have.”

Whipple’s invite to Delta follows an outreach by Secretary of State Kris Kobach to the NRA.

Kobach, who’s running for governor, tweeted an invitation to the NRA asking them to move their annual convention to Kansas, which he called “the most pro-gun state in America.”

His political ally, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, publicly offered the NRA the use of the arena he owns in Park City.

And Whipple’s not the only one to reach out to Delta. The governors of New York, Connecticut and Virginia and several mayors have made similar online overtures.

The multiple invitations prompted the respected Bloomberg business news service to write an article titled “Delta Isn’t Leaving Atlanta, So Please Stop Talking About It.”

The article points out that Delta has had an enormously profitable relationship with the Atlanta airport, which it practically controls by virtue of its size and headquarters’ presence there.

In addition, the article noted that Delta signed a 20-year lease two years ago to stay in Atlanta, where it has been based for 77 years.

National Rifle Association executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre said opponents of gun rights "hate individual freedoms" and want to eliminate the 2nd Amendment.