Scott Brockman assumed the position of president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority on Jan. 3.
The transition didn’t require much of a move from Brockman, who has served in a variety of roles with the Airport Authority since he joined the organization in 2003.
“I jumped two offices to the west,” Brockman, 52, said with a laugh.
But Brockman’s main goal – to lure new, affordable air service to Memphis International – is no laughing matter.
“We are on a mission, the relentless pursuit of frequent and affordable air service,” he said.
Brockman took the reins of the Airport Authority as it wrestles with the reality of no longer being a fortress hub for a major airline, transitioning from an airport dominated by connecting flights to one focused on generating more origin and destination traffic.
The Delta Air Lines dehubbing was a blessing and a curse for the airport. The transition means fewer nonstop destinations – the airport now has 36 nonstop destinations instead of 91 – but it also opened the door for low-cost carriers to enter the market, something flyers had been requesting for years but wasn’t possible because of the hub.
“The trade-off to the high prices of being a hub airport for Northwest and then Delta was the sheer volume of nonstop destinations,” said Brockman. “Without that hub other airlines can truly look at entering the Memphis market and making that operation profitable. The competition of a Delta or Northwest hub did not allow that in the past. The air service model, the pure nature of the beast, did not allow it to be both ways.”
Southwest Airlines began service at the airport in November and Frontier Airlines will begin service in March. Brockman said the challenge for the Airport Authority now is to make sure people use the service so the carriers maintain or grow their presence.
Brockman said Southwest and Frontier will still face competition from Delta, a scenario he’s seen before. After starting service in Memphis in 2007, Frontier was forced to exit the market less than a year later after Northwest slashed airfares to markets Frontier served.
“The future is extremely bright from the standpoint of air service development potential but the risk is that we have a repeat of our 2007 experience with Frontier Airlines,” Brockman said. “The risk is the Delta Sky Miles addiction keeps people from taking advantage of the airlines that brings lower fares to Memphis. Delta will compete with them from a pricing standpoint. We have to use that service or we won’t keep it.”
The Airport Authority is doing its part to spread the word about the new air service. It hired a public information officer and entered into a cooperative marketing agreement with the airlines to market service to and from Memphis.
“We’re re-engineering how we communicate with this community in a way we never have before,” said Brockman.
While the airport is going through a transition period it is still an economic powerhouse for Greater Memphis.
Memphis is home to the world’s second largest cargo airport, and airport-related industries have an annual economic impact of around $28.6 billion.
Brockman has been a part of expanding the airport’s economic footprint in Memphis for the last decade.
As the vice president and then senior vice president of finance and operations at the Airport Authority, Brockman was intimately involved in several key initiatives, including the creation of the new Ground Transportation Center, which brought more parking and rental car operations close to the airport terminal, and the relocation of the Air National Guard, which allowed FedEx to expand its world hub.
“The relocation of the Air National Guard was huge,” he said. “That opened up 103 acres right in the middle of the FedEx hub, which was just tremendous in supporting the continued growth of FedEx in this region.”
Brockman has also been a good steward of the airport’s finances. When he joined the Airport Authority almost 11 years ago, it had around $640 million in revenue bond debt, an amount that has dropped to less than $400 million today.
“We are about 12 years away from being debt free,” Brockman said. “We run a financially efficient organization, a very solid business program.”
Airport Authority chairman Jack Sammons described Brockman as a relentlessly optimistic figure who leads by example, two characteristics that will help the airport move forward.
“He’s the first one to get there and the last one to leave,” Sammons said.
Sammons isn’t the only one to recognize Brockman’s passion and expertise. Last year, the American Association of Airport Executives recognized Brockman, who previously held management positions with Tucson International Airport, Des Moines International Airport and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, with the Distinguished Service Award, which is given to airport executives in recognition of career-long contributions to the international aviation industry.
“Scott is widely respected in the industry and I was really fortunate that we didn’t have to do a global search to find a world-class airport executive because we had one in our own organization,” Sammons said.