The downside of Being the Air Cap

Harry R. Clements of Wichita contributed this article, which is a summary of a larger study he performed. Click here to read the full study in pdf format.

Mr. Clements’s article makes a striking conclusion as to why airfares in Wichita were so high. I would be curious as to whether any of our government leaders have read the study. We should also ask why our government leaders are not performing research like this when they propose to spend large sums of taxpayer money.


Wichita State’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research recently placed a guest article of mine on their website. It concerns a statistical study based on the level of air travel generated at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport compared to five other cities in the region, in which the data shows Wichita is ranked dead last, and an attempt to figure out why we do so poorly in this type of “competition.” It further questions whether our city’s substantial airline subsidy is worth the money spent. Since the article was written for consumption by professionals and is based on what might be considered obscure econometric techniques, it isn’t very suitable for reading by the lay readers of this paper. But I think the results are important enough that they should be seen by our town’s citizens, the decision making politicians that represent them, and the local media that should air such issues.

The cities compared are Des Moines, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Omaha, Tulsa and our own, over a recent six year period. The important factors affecting airline traffic generation were determined by slimming down a list obtained from the airline industry’s primary trade organization, the Airline Transport Association, with a couple of additions that together with theirs explain the greatest part of the differences in passenger results among these cities. These most important factors are population and per capita income (the more the better for these two) and a novel one, the number of pilots in the city’s population (in this case the lower the better). Wichita not only ranks next to last in population and income among the six — not favorable — but has an astounding more than twice the number of pilots, per capita, than the other cities’ which is really unfavorable. If Wichita were, so to speak, more like these other cities we could expect our airline passenger traffic to double. This is certainly a reason why other cities in our region do not have to rely on subsidies to generate their traffic.

Wichita’s effort to maintain its aircraft industry and attract other high income new businesses — for instance bio-technology, but not call centers and specialty retailers — will tend to increase per capita income, and population, but is it possible for an airline subsidy to overcome that which comes with being the Air Capital of the World — a high concentration of pilots, with charter and corporate fleets available, able to fly people wherever they need to go? Should we, if we could figure out how, have a policy to decrease the number of pilots? That problem is the downside of being the Air Cap.


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