Wichita lures three airlines with $15 million pledge campaign

Tuesday, December 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Community leaders determined to lower air fares at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport unveiled Tuesday a $15 million pledge drive they hope will lure three discount air carriers to the city.

``This is a defining moment in the city,'' Wichita Mayor Bob Knight told his Air Service Task Force just minutes before unveiling the campaign to reporters.

At the heart of the strategy _ which the city has dubbed its Fair Fares program _ is a ``travel bank'' where businesses pledge to spend a portion of their annual travel budget on the three targeted discount airlines.

By Jan. 18, the city hopes to raise $15 million _ at least $5 million each in travel pledges on AirTran Airways, Frontier Airlines and American Trans Air, Knight said.

Instead of putting up cash in advance as first envisioned, the city has come up with its ``Fair Fares Credit Card.''

Issued by InTrust Bank and Commerce Bank, the card works like any other credit card except that businesses pledge an amount from their travel budget and then use the card to charge that travel and pay for it later.

Knight said south-central Kansas businesses will raise the pledges without any state government help. The city has packaged the campaign with a distinctive logo, and also plans an advertising and promotional campaign in south-central Kansas. Its distinctive ``Fair Fares'' logo is on the new credit card and brochures.

``It is not only a slogan _ it is a battle cry for this community,'' Knight told reporters.

With $15 million in pledges expected to be raised in the coming six weeks, at least one or more of the discount air carriers could begin service to Wichita by spring, Knight said.

``On the surface it seems a rather extraordinary amount, but when you look at what we spend ... on air service, it is a drop in the bucket,'' he said.

Business Investment Group, a organization comprised of 30 business leaders, also announced Tuesday it had already raised $277,850 in travel pledges from its own members _ marking the first definitive pledges the travel bank has received.

Community leaders are selling the program to businesses in south-central Kansas on the premise that these discount airlines will save them 30 to 60 percent of the fares offered by other airlines now serving Mid-Continent Airlines. Each airline is expected to offer three round-trip flights per day to and from their hub locations.

The discount carriers will have a tremendous impact in Wichita, said Steve Flesher, the city's air service development director.

With the discount carriers, the average fares at Mid-Continent are projected to equal air fares at the Kansas City airport, he said. The number of passengers flying out of Wichita's airport is expected to triple as the city reclaims airline passengers that now drive to other airports because of Wichita's higher fares.

The three discount airlines were chosen because of their service to the top destinations from Wichita, Knight said.