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VOL. 6 | NO. 50 | Saturday, December 07, 2013

Looking Upward

Turbulence at Memphis International Airport paves way for clearer skies in 2014

By Michael Waddell

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The facelift of Memphis International Airport has continued throughout 2013 despite peaks and valleys for the airport’s passenger business.

Construction is underway near Terminal A at Memphis International Airport.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

The impact of Delta Air Lines’ dehubbing and reduced service – including further cuts announced last week – has been offset somewhat by the arrival of Southwest Airlines and the continued strength of the airport’s cargo activity.

“This year has been incredibly challenging, but 2013 was a good year for us,” said Larry Cox, the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority president and CEO who retires from the board next month after 30-plus years of service. “The challenge has been the large amount of air service we’ve lost from our former hub carrier Delta Air Lines, but that has led to some great achievements like the recruitment of Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines, which leads to lower airfares.”

Cox also cites the airport’s excellent financial performance this year.

“We’ve been able to maximize our revenues and reduce expenses in every way possible for the ultimate purpose of keeping our costs per enplaned passenger to the airlines low as well as keeping landing fees low for our cargo carriers,” he said.

At press time, Cox was bracing for more cuts from Delta.

“However, I think the reduction from Delta gives us a great opportunity to recruit airlines like JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air in the next year – all airlines we have been recruiting for a long time,” he said. “With the dominant hub out of the way, I think we are going to see some real successes with those airlines.”

On the cargo side, Memphis International continues to rank near the top globally this year – the airport a few years ago got bumped down into second place among the world’s busiest cargo airports, behind Hong Kong – and Cox expects more of the same in 2014.

“We’ve had very strong cargo numbers this year thanks to FedEx and UPS,” said Cox, who sees UPS’ $80 million expansion and doubling of capacity as a good sign for next year’s numbers. “We’re very happy about their growth, and we are very happy with how FedEx has restructured their operations resulting in more flights into Memphis.”

The airport is also enjoying a makeover this year, with a variety of construction projects underway and more planned for next year. Nearing completion is the replacement of eight escalators in Terminals A and C, and seismic work is occurring on a portion of the drive leading into the airport.

Memphis International Airport, whose Concourse B is shown here, has seen drops in passengers since Delta reduced flights and dehubbed Memphis, but new carriers have airport brass optimistic.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“It’s our first seismic piece in the terminal arena,” said John Greaud, the airport’s president of operations. “It will be a couple of years before we begin working on the next seismic phase, which will include some renovations to the terminal building.”

Greaud cites the airport’s new ground transportation center that opened in March as a highlight of 2013.

“It’s been a great success for us, and the structure is getting great usage so far,” Greaud said.

The center includes rental cars on the bottom two floors and public economy parking on the top five floors. The Airport Authority board is discussing the future addition, possibly as early as next year, of amenities at the facility like valet service and car detailing.

Another major construction project this year at the airport has been a ramp reconstruction project, replacing the apron around the terminal building. The pavement being replaced is the same from when the terminal was built in the early 1960s.

“We are in Phase II of that project, and it should be completed by August of next year,” said Greaud, who expects the full project to be completed in another two years.

The airport is also in the process of the installation of a new access control and CCTV system upgrade this year. Projects for next year include adding a multiuser flight information display system throughout the airport.

“We plan to install a new flight information display system (FIDS) and baggage information display system (BIDS) in the next year or so,” Greaud said. “Passengers will be able to look at any of the monitor banks that we have in place and they will be able to see current flight information for any airline they are flying.”

Next year will also see the demolition of the property’s former hotel building that was built in the early 1970s and had flown the Radisson and Sheraton banners at one point.

“We will bid that project out,” Greaud said. “There is not a plan to replace the hotel. When it closed about a year ago, we absorbed the parking lot area in front of the hotel as an expanded cell phone lot.”

Greaud hopes to renovate the cell phone lot’s curbing and add restrooms, vending machines and flight information displays as new amenities.

The airport’s infrastructure and carrier roster won’t be the only things to see changes in 2014. On Jan. 2, chief operating officer Scott Brockman will replace Cox as the airport’s president and CEO.

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