The 20-plus years of lobbying, rewriting congressional amendments, visiting, meeting, marketing ICT to Southwest Airlines, all with a good deal of cajoling, were essential growth experiences for both Wichita and SWA. This running dialog involved three governors, numerous senators and congressmen, many mayors, a large group of influential CEOs and prominent Wichita entrepreneurs. It was a group of passionate Wichitans and Kansans who demonstrated the very same spirit and drive that defines SWA. Southwest Airlines’ colorful and much-loved 737s, now landing and taking off from Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport, are a symbol of a greater effort, a more determined community, and a brighter future.
The last 20 years have proven that the airline business isn’t easy; more than 30 have gone out of business during the time that Wichita has been courting SWA. Of the current Big Five only one hasn’t either merged or gone through bankruptcy. Only one has reported 40 consecutive years of profitability and only one is recognized as having a highly coveted investment-grade credit rating. And only one still offers no charges for bags or for change fees. Yep. Southwest.
ICT’s victory came after a combination of solid business argument and a highly energetic demonstration of goodwill. This is not just our assertion. After SWA’s leadership received a warm, but very splashy public welcome, SWA’s senior leadership (Ron Ricks, EVP-chief legal & regulatory officer) explained in a lunch address to the Wichita Aero Club SWA’s compelling business-case analysis for bringing SWA to ICT. He claimed that never in SWA’s history has the airline had the kind of reception it’s had in Wichita. He added that SWA is overwhelmed at the marketing effort ICT has put forth in introducing SWA to the local community. And, in closing, he let every other market courting SWA know that the bar has been raised – dramatically.
Another, less obvious and less recognized outcome is that Southwest’s beloved 737s (the bulk of the airframe manufactured in Wichita by Spirit AeroSystems) are finally flying home. This by itself marks an additional symbolic event for Wichita’s globally driven aviation market. In fact, some aviation scholars argue that the iconic 737 could be the most significant commercial aircraft ever built. Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport will now be included among the hundreds of global airports receiving flights from the ubiquitous airliner. The Wichita-built 737 so perfectly matches passenger-count, flight-distance and mission capability of so many airlines that they have remained committed to it for over 40 years. So, it’s no surprise that SWA has built its business around it, and it’s no surprise that their 737s’ flying home is also very meaningful to SWA.
Sometimes relationships take time to develop. So here’s to all the local folks involved in providing the compelling case of marketing Wichita to Southwest. I would argue this is exactly how it was supposed to happen; it just took a little longer than expected. Welcome to SWA and welcome home to the 737.