Kansas City TV station KSHB, an NBC affiliate, aired an investigative story Monday about the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program, claiming the state “is paying for empty seats on airplanes from Kansas’ largest airport with little oversight.” It described how since 2006, the state has spent $5 million a year to subsidize low-fare air service, mostly for AirTran Airways and Frontier Airlines at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. It claimed that “AirTran’s flights were relatively empty compared to other airlines flying in and out of Wichita,” citing federal data showing Delta and American Eagle flights at 74 percent capacity during the first three months of 2012, while AirTran’s were 44 percent capacity. The story highlighted a critical 2011 state audit of the airfares subsidy. It also quoted state Sen. Chris Steineger, R-Kansas City, as saying that the program’s proponents “oversold” its statewide benefits and calling it “a matter of bad priorities” that the airfares subsidy survived deep cuts to the state budget. Among the key points that went unmentioned in the story, though: that Gov. Sam Brownback has endorsed continued state support for the program, understanding its value to business and economic development regionally, and that the long-standing program helped win the commitment of Southwest Airlines to serve Wichita as it takes over AirTran. The Sedgwick County Commission approved the latest agreement with AirTran at Wednesday’s meeting.
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