Why do Kansans pay taxes, including sales tax on food, to fund millions in subsidy to a company that is experiencing a sustained streak of record profits?
As the Wichita City Council prepares to authorize funding for Southwest Airlines, it’s worth taking a look at updated statistics regarding the airport. The agenda item the council will consider is available here.
The city has pointed to the arrival of Southwest last June as a game-changer for the airport. It’s true that passenger counts have increased. In the nearby chart I present monthly passenger counts, enplanements only, at the Wichita airport for all carriers and for Southwest separately. I’ve treated Southwest as a continuation of AirTran, as Southwest started service at the same time AirTran stopped, and Southwest is receiving a similar subsidy. I show monthly traffic, and also a 12-month moving average to smooth out the extreme monthly variations in passenger traffic. (Click on charts for larger versions.)
Of note is that while the Southwest passenger count is rising, it started from a low position. Also, the count has not risen to the level that AirTran experienced in the middle of the last decade and as recently as 2011.
Considering the number of flights leaving the Wichita airport, the recent trend is up. This is a departure from recent trends. Although the number of available flights nationally has been slowly falling, it was falling faster for Wichita. That trend, for now, is reversed, although the number of flights in Wichita is far below the level of a decade ago.
The number of flights is an important statistic. Greater attention is given to fares, but for many travelers, especially business travelers, an available flight at any price is paramount. Last year at this time I wrote “A program designed to bring low air fares to Wichita appears to meet that goal, but the unintended and inevitable consequences of the program are not being recognized. In particular, the number of flights available at the Wichita airport continues to decline.” So it is good news that the number of flights has risen.
Wichita compared to the nation
Looking at passengers through the end of 2013, Wichita has now experienced an uptick. Passenger traffic in Wichita had been relatively level at a time that national traffic was rising. The number of available seats on flights has started to rise in Wichita, while nationally the trend has been level the past several years.
Load factor — the percent of available seats that were sold — is rising in Wichita, as it is nationally.
The last set of four charts is from an interactive visualization I prepared using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. You may select any number of airports for display on the charts.
Recently Southwest reported record high profits for the quarter ending in June. The company said that net income was $485 million, which it said represented the fifth consecutive quarter of record profits.
We might ask this question: Why do Kansans across the state pay taxes, including sales tax on food, to fund millions in subsidy to a company that is experiencing a sustained streak of record profits?