So far, the effort to rebuild Memphis as a passenger airline market is more of a sales job than an actual reconfiguration.
The mechanics of operating an airport – which is the nation’s busiest cargo airport and one of the most expensive airports in the country – are complex.
But that does not weaken or dilute an imperative to make Memphis International Airport’s passenger side work for our benefit.
With that in mind, we suggest dropping the broad sell of the aerotropolis concept. Instead focus that energy on a much more targeted effort to begin the actual transformation of part of the area around the airport itself.
The general concept of an aerotropolis is a 25-mile radius from an airport, a distance that would take the zone to the borders of the Tunica casinos to the south. It is so big and general as to be meaningless.
The concept doesn’t really need to capture the imagination of a broad public. It needs to catch the eye of those with logistics needs – goods and services to be moved through Memphis that can be made in Memphis.
What matters here is results – getting something going in the airport area is the surest way to create momentum. That momentum will not be found in PowerPoint presentations of a very simple and basic concept that we all get in the first slide.
We also need to realize that if Delta Air Lines’ exit means less passenger air service with lower fares, our efforts toward attracting carriers must of necessity be more choosy about what routes we want as well.
This is where consultations with our business leaders, who are already complaining about the difficulty and price of flying clients and employees into and out of Memphis, is essential.
Any strategy for Memphis International Airport’s life after hub status must prioritize access to service that goes where Memphians and those in the region go regularly. Even before Delta went through the formal motions of de-hubbing Memphis, originating and destination traffic had surpassed connecting passengers at the airport.
If that is the new reality, and we need to know that relatively soon, then that is a different set of needs than the airport has been accustomed to meeting for quite some time.
In no case should airport incentives be extended to Delta Air Lines to allow it to repeat what Northwest Airlines did to Frontier Airlines here several years ago. Surely there is room in the applicable statutes and regulations for the airport authority to protect itself from predatory business practices that are not in the best interest of either the city or the airport.
Delta remains the dominant carrier at Memphis International Airport even in post-hub status. It shouldn’t have the ability to short circuit efforts to rebuild Memphis as a passenger airport with reasonable fares.