Frontier Airlines Subsidy Sparks Funding Debate

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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March 30, 2011

It was a funding face-off in Sedgwick County Wednesday as a decision sparked debate over whether tax dollars should support private business. The Sedgwick County Commission approved funding for several businesses Wednesday, but not without opposition.

Frontier Airlines was one of the companies to receive public funding as the Commission approved a nearly $334,000 subsidy, with a vote of 4-1, to help keep airfares affordable.

When we asked Wichita travelers about what they thought of airfares, here's what they had to say:

"Ridiculous. I had to pay $300 just for my 2-year-old to fly," said Vanitinine Johnson.

"Prices are really expensive," said Anthony Petrie.

But prices could be even higher -- much higher, according to supporters of Wichita's affordable airfares program. The program is why Sedgwick County Commissioners say they approved the subsidy for Frontier. But not everyone voted 'yes.'

"The price of gasoline is high. Are we going to subsidize all the gas stations in Wichita and Sedgwick County so we can reduce the price of gasoline? Well of course not," said Commissioner Richard Ranzau, the only one to vote 'no' to the subsidy.

But affordable airfares are different, according to the President of the Wichita Independent Business Association, who says without the program, the market for air travel in the air capital may diminish.

"Even if you don't fly, you have to understand just how that would impact money that comes into the community and also the ability of businesses to do well here," said WIBA President Tim Witsman.

But Witsman agrees, not every business should receive public funding.

"It's, what are we putting into it, and what are we getting as a result," said Witsman.

However, Commissioner Ranzau says government shouldn't subsidize business, especially as the county makes cuts which could impact up to 23 government jobs.

"When we take money from one man and give it to another... that in my mind is an abuse of power. It's un-American," said Ranzau.

But without it, experts say airfares may skyrocket. Then, many Wichita travelers could be taking a different route.

"They offered to fly me out of Kansas City and that's a lot cheaper there," said Petrie.

"I wouldn't fly, I would just drive. I mean go right over there to Enterprise and I would just drive," said Johnson.

Frontier isn't the only airline to receive public funding. AirTran is also part of the program. Also at the meeting, Commissioners approved forgivable loans to two other Wichita companies.


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