A program designed to bring low air fares to Wichita appears to meet that goal, but the unintended and inevitable consequences of the program are not being recognized.
The legislative agendas for Wichita and Sedgwick County call for supporting the retention and funding of the Affordable Airfares program. This program provides taxpayer money to subsidize low-cost air carriers in Kansas. Most of the program’s funds have been spent in Wichita, in particular on AirTran Airways.
According to Regional Economic Area Partnership, the managing organization, the goal of the program is “to provide more air flight options, more competition for air travel, and affordable airfares for Kansas.”
Is the Affordable Airfares program meeting its goals? If we look at “air flight options,” and if we consider the number of monthly departing flights as a measurement, Wichita isn’t doing well compared to the nation. The chart at the end of this article illustrates.
(Since this data is highly seasonal, I present a 12-month moving average, so that each point plotted is the average of the previous 12 months data. Also, I index January 2000 to 100.)
Of particular note is that over the past two or three years, the trend of flights nationally is level, while the trend of flights available in Wichita is declining.
In its Kansas Affordable Airfares Program Fiscal Year 2011 Report, REAP addresses the goal of “more air flight options” and reports:
“Air service through Wichita Mid-Continent Airport addresses the statutory objective of more flight options, as follows: A total of 11 airlines provide service from Wichita to seven nonstop destinations with connecting service and four nonstop destinations with no connecting service. Overall, there are on average 38 daily (with 40 on weekdays) nonstop or one-stop flights by commercial air carriers, providing access to 4,989 U.S. and international destinations.”
This statement simply addresses the current situation. But the goal is more flight options. Which is better evidence of meeting the statutory goal: A simple recitation of what’s available today, or looking at the trend, especially comparing Wichita to the nation? REAP’s statement provides very little information as to whether the program is meeting its stated goals, or whether the program is desirable. We should ask that REAP recognize the data and its implications.
This trend is an example of unintended consequences of government intervention and regulation. The Affordable Airfares program imposes a rough form of price control on airfares in Wichita. If the program didn’t do that — and it appears it succeeds at this goal — then there would be no point in having the program.
The inevitable effect of price controls is that less is supplied, compared to what would have been supplied. This economic phenomenon is reliable and predictable.
While travelers prefer low air fares to high, this is not the only consideration. For those who need to travel on short notice, the availability of flights is very important.
For more about flights in Wichita, see In Wichita, confusion over air traffic statistics.