As Southwest Airlines executives were in the city last week to talk with local leaders, Memphis International Airport secured $31.8 million in federal grant funding for what is a constant in the life of any major airport – construction.
The Airport Improvement Program grants – announced by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority president Larry Cox – pay 75 percent of the cost of the infrastructure projects.
“The local sponsor … has to fund the other 25 percent,” Cox said, referring to the airport authority. “And we generally fund those with revenue bonds or from operating surpluses.”
The federal funding from the U.S. Transportation Department’s Federal Aviation Administration will be split among three projects.
One is for the installation of an Emergency Material Arresting System at the south end of a runway. The system is crushable concrete used to stop a jet that overruns the runway. The system became an option when extra runway space was taken with the expansion of Shelby Drive, which is at the south end of the airport’s three north-south runways. Work on the arresting system should begin in March and take four months to finish.
The second project, a five-phase project of replacing the concrete aprons where jets park by the airport’s A, B and C concourses, is already under way.
“If an airline flies in the United States of America
we’re talking to them.”
President, Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority
The third project is a security system with closed-circuit cameras to monitor access points to restricted parts of the terminal building and the airfield.
“The airport has anywhere from $50 million to $100 million of capital projects in any particular year,” Cox said. “Not every project is eligible for funds from the FAA.”
“All of these flat surfaces you see out here at the airport are predominantly paid for by the federal government – the runways, the ramps,” Cohen said.
Meanwhile, Cox said Southwest executives last week indicated the domestic discount carrier might be ready to enter the Memphis market during the “fourth quarter of 2013.”
“They are asking us to be patient,” Cox said. “We can’t share the details. But I’m obviously very excited about that prospect. We’re working with other carriers too. If an airline flies in the United States of America we’re talking to them.”
Cohen also cautioned against heightened expectations of a dramatic jump in air service.
“While Southwest will hopefully be here in the fall of 2013 and JetBlue will be here sometime in the future, they are not going to come unless we show them we have passengers that can make it profitable for them. A lot of it is market conditions,” Cohen said. “Until we get a beach and a lot of cabanas we are not going to have a lot of increased air traffic.”