Manhattan Regional Airport officials are worried about proposed federal subsidies for Salina Regional Airport.
According to Manhattan Regional Airport Director Jesse Romo, Salina is asking the U.S. Department of Transportation for a federal subsidy to fly 50-seat regional jets to Chicago through SkyWest Airlines. The subsidized one-way ticket price would be $88. In comparison, the average one-way ticket price to fly to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from Manhattan was $176 last month.
Romo, who spoke with KMAN Monday following a meeting with MHK’s Airport Advisory Board, said the federal Essential Air Service program was never intended to compete with free market airports like Manhattan’s.
“Free market rates just can’t compete with subsidized rates,” Romo said. “It’s direct competition with our market. It’s pulling traffic from our area, so the impacts of this could be disastrous for the entire region.
“It’s just not what that subsidy program was intended for.”
The EAS program is familiar to Manhattan Regional Airport. It was once an EAS-eligible airport but has since been unsubsidized after it gained regional jet service to Dallas provided by American Eagle in 2009, according to airport officials. Before it gained regional jet service, Manhattan flew 19-seat aircraft that averaged 15,000 passengers per year. Since, the airport has seen a $15.8 million expansion — funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the City of Manhattan — and flies approximately 63,000 passengers per year.
“Salina has been operating under EAS for quite a few years,” Romo said. “Agreements are done every two years, and the last two years they’ve been flying with the subsidy to go to Denver, which, made it impossible for Manhattan to continue to pursue Denver because we can’t compete with the rates.”
Romo said the airport’s advisory board has began a letter-writing campaign urging the DOT to reconsider the subsidy for Chicago flights out of Salina. The DOT has asked for public comment on the matter by Wednesday.
“It’s vital that our community rallies quickly and responds to the docket and lets the U.S. DOT know that we don’t like to see a federal subsidy competing with the free market, especially one as successful as Manhattan has historically been,” Romo said.