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VOL. 126 | NO. 39 | Friday, February 25, 2011

Airport Officials Keep Eye on FAA Reauthorization

By Bill Dries

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Memphis International Airport officials are keeping a wary eye on Washington as Congress considers renewing the authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and possibly cutting or keeping flat Airport Improvement Project revenue.

The AIP revenue from a surcharge on gasoline, package services and similar business is what keeps the airport from tacking a fee on passenger tickets to finance the bond debt used to pay for improvements at the airport.

Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority president Larry Cox said Thursday at the airport’s board of commissioners meeting that he remains “optimistic” the FAA will get a reauthorization and AIP funding will at least remain flat.

The FAA and its programs have been operating under a series of 17 short-term extensions since 2007.

Memphis International got $43 million in the last year through AIP from the FAA for infrastructure improvements.

“That’s an extraordinary amount of money,” Cox said. “If we lose $43 million we’re gong to be in a pickle on how we’re gong to be able to fund the many important things we have to do. We’ll more than likely have no choice but to start charging a passenger facility charge.”

Airport officials plan to make their point on continued AIP funding for Memphis Friday as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman John Mica of Florida visits Millington. U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Stephen Fincher of Tennessee’s 8th Congressional district are members of the committee.

Mica has said the FAA reauthorization term in the bill is one of the committee’s top priorities.

In other developments from Thursday’s monthly MSCAA meeting, Delta Air Lines Inc. airport operations field director Ernie Taylor announced he is leaving to be manager for the airline’s southeast region. No replacement has been named yet for Taylor.

Also, winter weather in Memphis and at other airports, as well as some adjustments in FedEx flights in Indianapolis, played a role in passenger and cargo counts for Memphis International Airport in the first month of the new year.

Memphis International’s average daily scheduled flights declined in January with 241 average daily scheduled flights compared to 244 for January 2010. There were 247 in December, according to airport authority statistics.

The airport flew 683,099 passengers last month, down 4.4 percent from Jan. 2010’s passenger count of 714,826. The airport flew 785,854 passengers in Dec., which reflects holiday season travel.

Airport travel during January is typically lower by comparison.

“The passenger airlines have a new strategy. They cancel more flights in advance than they used to,” Cox told the airport authority board. “The concessionaires love it when they don’t because then they get trapped in the terminal and they buy stuff.”

The airport handled 668.2 million pounds of cargo in January, a 4.3 percent decline from the January 2010 total of 698.4 million pounds and also down from 790.1 million pounds of cargo in December 2010.

Cox said FedEx officials told him it was because of adjustments in flights from its Indianapolis hub. The Memphis-based cargo giant accounted for 661.4 million pounds of Memphis International’s January total.

Concession revenues for the airport were $2.6 million in January, down eight percent from January 2010.

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