The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority will begin the next year with an empty chairman’s seat as Arnold Perl retired Thursday, Dec. 20, after 31 years of service, including 16 years as the committee’s chairman.
His unexpected retirement is effective immediately.
Perl leaves behind an impressive legacy of dedication to the Memphis International Airport and the city of Memphis as well as the region.
His departure shocked and saddened fellow board members, who pleaded with Perl to reconsider his decision but to no avail. He parted with the mantra of “onward and upward” for his colleagues and a successor to be named next year.
"I have made the personal decision to retire from this authority," said Perl. "Nothing is forever, and by retiring at this particular time, effective today, I will provide the opportunity for a new chair person to work closely with Larry Cox for the next year and a half prior to his announced retirement in July 2014. I retire with a great sense of fulfillment, leaving behind many wonderful accomplishments by this authority."
Perl’s tenure as chairman of the airport authority’s board of commissioners includes the addition of Memphis International’s World Runway as well as the airport’s long-standing run as the world’s busiest for cargo and its role as a hub for Northwest Airlines and then Delta Air Lines.
The airport also saw some of its largest construction projects in recent memory, including the recently opened Federal Aviation Administration air-traffic control tower and a ground transportation center that is nearing completion.
But in recent years, Memphis dropped to second behind Hong Kong in cargo movement, Delta diminished service here not too long after merging with Northwest and passengers became more vocal about high airfares out of Memphis.
Earlier this year Perl and other commissioners unveiled and approved an incentive plan of up to $1 million to attract competing air service at Memphis International.
The board of commissioners passed the resolution in hopes that incentives for round-trip daily service to major domestic, regional and international markets will bring more carriers to and lower airfares at the airport, a perennial top five facility in terms of airfares for years.
“I think this is the first step in our flight plan to get there,” Perl said at the time.
The board will elect a new chairman at its next monthly board meeting in January. The new chair will fill Perl’s term, which has four years remaining.
It was announced earlier this year that Memphis International Airport President and CEO Larry Cox would be retiring in July 2014.
The December meeting also featured the election of Herb Hilliard as the vice chairman for 2013, replacing outgoing vice chairman John Stokes.
The board also approved a contract for the extension of a new ramp section. Construction company APAC Tennessee Inc. was the low bidder at $5.1 million, and Ferrell Paving Inc. won the paving portion of the project for $6.8 million. Seventy-five percent of the project cost will be covered by the FAA.
Total enplanements dropped dramatically from last year, with 228,936 enplanements in November 2012 compared to 329,814 in November 2011. The 30 percent drop is attributed to reduced Delta flights and connecting traffic.
Year to date, total enplanements are down 21 percent from nearly 4 million in calendar year 2011 compared to 3.1 million this year.
The average number of daily flights also dipped to 149 flights last month from 194 flights in November 2011.
Cargo handled remained a very strong point for Memphis International, which leads Hong Kong by 74,000 metric tons for world’s busiest cargo airport heading into the final month of the year. In November, cargo activity was up at the airport 3.8 percent compared to November 2011, with roughly 764 million pounds handled last month versus 726 million pounds handled in November last year.
Year to date, cargo handled at Memphis International is up 3.1 percent to nearly 8.1 billion pounds this year from 7.8 billion pounds in 2011.
Several construction projects are under way at the airport and nearing completion. Work is progressing on the aforementioned ground transportation center, which is now fully illuminated. The center is 95 percent complete and will open in February. The paving of the terminal apron is 19 percent complete now and is scheduled for completion in April. The overall project to replace all of the airport’s ramps will be complete in 2015.
The board now looks forward next year to the arrival of Southwest Airlines, which will convert the airport’s Air Tran flights next September or October.