June 12, 2007

Economy, gas prices send people flying

With new nonstop flights on the horizon, the number of passengers flying in and out of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport in 2007 could set a record. "I think we're going to see a good year if not a record year," Valerie Wise, air service manager at Mid-Continent, said Monday.

Passenger traffic at the airport has risen for the past seven months. For the year, traffic is up 5 percent.

The airport set a record for May, with the number of passengers rising 7 percent over May 2006. With 142,805 passengers last month, traffic beat the previous record set in May 2004.

That's a change from 2006, when traffic for the year declined 1.8 percent from 2005.

It's difficult to know the exact reasons more people are flying from Wichita, Wise said.

But the economy is strong and fares are good, she said. In addition, higher fuel prices may keep passengers from driving to Kansas City to catch a flight.

Linda Parker, who lives in Rose Hill, said she prefers flying from Mid-Continent, although she has flown from Kansas City and Oklahoma City before. On Monday, Parker was returning from Hawaii.

"It's just easier for us," Parker said of using Mid-Continent.

Wichita's traffic growth mirrors a national trend. Domestically, passenger traffic has risen 4 percent for the first four months of the year, while international traffic is up 7 percent, according to Airports Council International.

Wichita's increase this year is similar to increases at Kansas City International Airport. Traffic there has risen about 5 percent for 2007 over the first four months of last year.

Traffic has declined slightly, however, at Tulsa International Airport and Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

"I'd like to say our marketing and advertising is a factor," Wise said. "We're just very pleased with the growth here."

More flights coming

Mid-Continent has had a recent run of announcements of new service.

Allegiant Air added nonstop service to Orlando May 22 and is adding evening flights to Las Vegas for the summer.

Allegiant's direct flights to Wichita from Las Vegas is why JoHann Wylie rarely flies into Kansas City or Oklahoma City.

"It's less expensive and saves time," said Wylie, a former Wichitan who now lives in Las Vegas.

"That's the quickest way to get between Vegas and Wichita."

United Airlines and Delta Connection are each beginning nonstop service to Los Angeles. United's service begins Sept. 5, while Delta's service, provided by ExpressJet, starts July 1.

And Wichita is in the running for new service to Denver.

When Frontier Airlines announces the cities it is adding to its route structure, airport officials are optimistic Wichita will be among them. Frontier is expected to make an announcement soon.

The airport continuously works on air service, Wise said. Airlines have limited resources and Wichita must compete with airports across the country, she said.

The airport provides incentives for new and existing airlines that add new nonstop destinations or increase service. Those incentives can include temporary waivers of landing fees, terminal rents and other charges in addition to marketing assistance.

Only Allegiant is taking advantage of the airport's incentive program. Delta has not yet formally asked for the incentives, Wise said.

Read more of this article's at the source: www.kansas.com

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