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VOL. 125 | NO. 248 | Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Airport Closes Books On Stellar 2010

By Sarah Baker

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A challenging year in transportation proved to be a banner year for Memphis International Airport, home to shipping giant FedEx Corp. and a hub for Delta Air Lines Inc.

Through Nov. 30 its cargo volume improved 6.5 percent and its passenger traffic declined only 2.1 percent compared to 2009 – remarkable numbers considering the aviation industry’s struggles.

Memphis International kicked off 2010 by beginning construction on its $89 million consolidated ground transportation center. The Flintco Cos. Inc. was hired to build the seven-level center, which began in March and should be complete by spring 2012.

The center will be located between the existing three-level parking deck and the new 336-foot air traffic control tower, providing a new front door for the airport.

Because all of the rental car companies will be housed inside the center, it will reduce bus transportation for those renting vehicles, thus shrinking the airport’s carbon footprint. The state-of-the-art center will be connected to the main terminal with a series of covered moving sidewalks.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Arnold Perl, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “Two years from now as we speak, we’ll be talking about how it’s one of the model facilities of any airport in the United States.”

But 2010’s capital improvements don’t stop there. A new economy parking lot is now open, providing an additional 1,035 spaces for travelers. The airport also improved a handful of taxiways.

Expansion and improvement work is also under way at the airport’s B checkpoint and is expected to be complete by June. The new FAA control tower, which will be finished by April 15, will be the third-tallest FAA tower in the South after ones in Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta.

The spring also will mark the completion of two large-screen displays at the airport entrance and exit, enabling airport officials to communicate with the traveling public electronically. At the bottom of each sign will be the city’s trademarked logo, “Memphis: America’s Aerotropolis, Where Runway, Road, Rail & River Merge.”

The new signs will be installed just in time for the 2011 Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition, hosted by Memphis International Airport in April. With the tagline, “You’ve Got to Get to Memphis,” the three-day event’s keynote speakers are Fred Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx Corp., and Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc.

A record number of attendees have already made their reservations for the April 11-13 conference, where officials from airport facilities near and far will see firsthand the world’s busiest facility for moving cargo.

“The fact that the organizers selected Memphis as the host site for the 2011 annual meeting underscores the fact that Memphis clearly has attained the status as a global city and unquestionably has risen to America’s aerotropolis,” said Perl.

As part of the city’s aerotropolis initiative, crews planted trees along the corridor leading into the airport. More improvements are on the way, all of which are part of the Plough Boulevard Landscape Master Plan initiated by the aerotropolis initiative’s gateways and beautification committee.

Another milestone for Memphis International this year was the adoption and approval of a new master plan, a 20-year plan that includes airport and terminal building improvements, as well as seismic upgrades.

In addition to upholding a low-cost structure for tenant airlines, the airport maintained its bond ratings, created new bonds and refunded existing bonds.

“MSCAA’s bond ratings were not lowered at all by any of the rating agencies; I think that says it all,” Perl said. “Most other facilities had a deterioration in their bond rating because of the significant drop in revenue.”

2010 also saw the arrival of body scanners at Memphis International. The new measures sparked discussion nationwide about airport security and passenger privacy.

And Memphis International grew closer to landing Southwest Airlines Co. in October when the low-fare carrier announced it was buying AirTran Airways. The move means Southwest will take over AirTran’s Memphis-Atlanta daily routes with perhaps more coverage on the horizon.

Going forward, Memphis International is poised to continue to weather the economic storm. The airport was rated No. 1 in cargo customer service and retained its No. 1 ranking in cargo volume for the 18th consecutive year by Airports Council International.

The airport’s other milestones included president and CEO Larry Cox celebrating 25 years at the helm. Cox also was selected as CEO of the year by the Memphis Minority Business Council.

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