Jack Sammons, the new chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board, is no stranger to the flight from Memphis to Atlanta. Sammons long has been the board’s frequent flyer when it comes to business travel.
Jack Sammons, president of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, is hoping to hear from Delta Air Lines officials about the ultimate number of flight cuts in Memphis. (Daily News File Photo: Kyle Kurlick)
But this week when Sammons goes to Atlanta it will be to meet with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson.
Sammons is the latest local leader to meet with Anderson about Delta’s declining air service at Memphis International Airport.
The total passenger count at the airport for February, most of which is on Delta, dropped 33 percent from the same period a year ago – from 533,474 passengers in February 2012 to 357,722 last month.
Sammons will talk with Anderson to try to get some indication of when the service cuts will bottom out and at what level they will for Memphis.
Having that knowledge is part of figuring out a new passenger traffic balance.
“The domestic airline business of America has been contracting for some time. The legacy carriers are focusing on the international trade,” Sammons said. “The low cost carriers, on the other hand – Southwest, Allegiant, Spirit – and those types of airlines that tend to focus on fares have had explosive growth in the last decade.”
Sammons commented with other guests on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.
The program can be seen on The Daily News Video, www.memphisdailynews.com.
The low cost carriers starting with new Southwest-AirTran service to come in August and a full Southwest presence replacing AirTran by November are the other side of the passenger equation at Memphis International Airport.
“The world is changing, and our airport is in the middle of that dynamic.”
– Jack Sammons
“As one door closes, another opens,” Sammons said. “The world is changing, and our airport is in the middle of that dynamic.”
As airport leaders look for the bottom in Delta cuts and what that means for service from Southwest and others, planners of a specific aerotropolis development outline continue to move toward specifics for a development plan covering the area surrounding the airport.
“The airport is the economic engine not only of this community but of the region,” Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad said of the process that is now gathering public input. “We’ve got to get this right. It’s a competitive advantage that our community has. But it’s kind of been underutilized and under-appreciated. There’s never really been a strategy for it.”
Conrad was among those on the council concerned about the way the plan was being pitched to the public. He thought it didn’t emphasize jobs creation enough. Council member Harold Collins thought it didn’t coordinate well enough with other plans within smaller areas in the aerotropolis development zone.
Conrad gave the planners working with the Greater Memphis Chamber credit for fixing those problems before the opening public hearing last week at Whitehaven High School.
Charles Goforth, a planning consultant working with the chamber on the aerotropolis planning, said a better thought-out plan for the area to include manufacturing, logistics and distribution could mean more originating and destination passenger traffic for the airport.
“If we have more businesses in the aerotropolis area, we will have more people using the airport,” Goforth said. “That’s the key. We have lost businesses. We need to engage and bring new businesses in that will then use the airport.”
That means better use of land for new prospects while some who have used up tax incentives on this side of the state line head for Mississippi.
“We’ve been losing some industries to DeSoto County because they’ve gone through the tax incentives here and are no longer eligible for them,” Goforth said. “Another part of it is available useable land. It’s kind of a comprehensive project to find places for additional industrial land, remove blight and get other businesses interested in moving back to the area.”
Much of the airport’s passenger traffic is connecting – making a connection to go someplace else after originating someplace else. Sammons says while that traffic has dropped dramatically in the last two years, the smaller segment of originating and destination passengers has stayed the same.