In today’s Wichita Eagle, editorialist Rhonda Holman gives Wichita a big pat on the back for its subsidy given to a low-cost air carrier. She goes so far as to mention a recent New York Times article that tells how Wichita was one of the first cities to do this.
It reminds me of how a few years ago Sam Williams, a Wichita advertising executive and onetime Chairman of Fair Fares, likened Wichita’s subsidy to the role of Kansas during the Civil War.
It’s all a little over the top, to say the least. But this is all in the spirit of the claims made to support the necessity of the subsidy. At one time, subsidy supporters claimed that the value of the subsidy would be $4.8 billion per year to Kansas. I think that number is larger than the state’s general fund spending at the time, and certainly not supported by any reasonable interpretation of facts.
Whether the subsidy paid to AirTran is a success is hard to say. If your inclination is towards ever-increasing government involvement in commerce, you probably like the subsidy. Never mind that it may not be providing the benefits we really need.
But when a city will loan money to a private condominium association to make repairs to its building, what’s a few million dollars paid to an airline?
At one time it was thought that the subsidy would be temporary. All that was needed, leaders such as former mayor Bob Knight said, was to give AirTran a jump start, and in a few years it would then be able to sustain itself without continued subsidy. Now, however, the subsidy is a permanent fixture, even though Holman raises alarm as to whether the state of Kansas will continue its $5 million annual contribution to the subsidy.
My question is this: will AirTran ever report a profit on its Wichita service, thereby reducing the subsidy it receives?
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