Memphis Airport Adds Free Wi-Fi

By Michael Waddell

Memphis International Airport continues to add new customer-friendly amenities this year, including the introduction Thursday of free Wi-Fi service throughout Terminals A, B and C.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

During the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board of commissioners Thursday, Nov. 21, monthly board meeting, officials discussed the ongoing upgrades and renovations occurring at the airport.

“The plaza and walkway from the new Ground Transportation Center will be finished in a month, just in time for the holiday travel season,” said airport board chairman Jack Sammons.

Another major issue on the table this month was a potentially costly mandate from the Transportation Security Administration. Airports across the country, including Memphis, are joining forces to challenge the TSA’s recent mandate that the airports manage and pay for security in the airports’ exit lanes. Since 2002, the TSA has considered the exit lanes as part of the screening areas that it controls and staffs.

The mandate affects about 155 airports and 350 exit lanes across the country, including three exit lanes at Memphis International, according to airport general counsel Brian Kuhn.

“What it means to us for all three checkpoints, if in fact we have to take over staffing of the exit lanes, is between $600,000 and $700,000 per year, and that is on top of an ever-reducing federally funded law enforcement officer (LEO) program whereby we have a mandate to have LEOs for relatively immediate response to the checkpoints,” said incoming airport president and CEO Scott Brockman, who takes the reins Jan. 2 when Larry Cox retires.

Over the last three years, the reimbursement program for MEM from the Transportation Security Administration for that LEO mandate has decreased by more than $600,000.

Meanwhile, the number of nonstop destination flights at the airport held steady from September to October, with 42 total nonstop destination flights to 33 cities. The overall passenger load factor jumped by 4 points from last month, with Southwest Airlines and U.S. Air leading the way at 82 percent.

“Year-over-year we’ve had an increase in O&D (origin and destination) traffic for the month of October. I think this is attributed to lower prices and Southwest Airlines,” said Forrest Artz, the airport’s chief financial officer and director of finance.

Due to the Delta Air Lines’ reductions earlier this year, total enplanements have dropped 31.4 percent for the fiscal year-to-date, to just less than 2 million by October from 2.9 million by October 2012. Compared to October 2012, total enplanements dropped 29 percent, falling to 182,872 enplanements this year from 257,824 last October.

Cargo continues to be the airport’s strong sector, as Memphis International – the world’s second-busiest cargo airport behind only Hong Kong – again saw strong activity last month from FedEx and UPS. Increased cargo numbers are also being driven by a recent 16 percent increase in international activity.

Total cargo handled for October increased 7.5 percent year-over-year, with roughly 820 million pounds handled compared to 762 million pounds handled in October 2012. For the 2013 fiscal year-to-date, cargo handled is up 3.2 percent, with more than 7.55 billion pounds handled so far this year, up from 7.32 billion pounds handled by October 2012.

Expectations are that if the trend continues, December could see some very high cargo numbers during the holiday shipping season.

October operating revenue at the airport of $10.2 million was 7.5 percent over budget, while year-to-date revenue of nearly $40 million is 5.2 percent over budget.