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VOL. 127 | NO. 13 | Friday, January 20, 2012

MEM Sees 1.3M Fewer Passengers in 2011

By Bill Dries

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Memphis International Airport saw about 1.3 million fewer passengers in a challenging 2011, but about the same amount of cargo for the calendar year.

The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board reviewed the numbers and took stock of projects in the year ahead when they met Thursday, Jan. 19.

The year-end numbers as well as those for the first half of the current fiscal year cover the period in which Delta Air Lines Inc., which has a hub at Memphis International, cut its capacity across its system including a number of regional flights in and out of Memphis.

The cuts took effect in late August. The airport retained its service to and from the top 50 major airline markets.

The passenger count at Memphis International in 2011 was 8.7 million, down 12.6 percent from 2010 when 10 million passengers came through the airport.

The last six months of the calendar year, which were the first six months of the fiscal year, included the specific timeframe when the cuts took effect, starting in late August. For those six months, the passenger numbers dropped 17.1 percent from the first six months of fiscal year 2011.

Delta has described the cuts to its capacity as “permanent” as it focuses on filling larger jets with more passengers and taking out older smaller capacity jets that had been less full and more expensive to maintain in relation to the number of passengers they carry.

The airport flew 628,888 passengers in December, a 19.9 percent decline from December 2010’s passenger count of 785,854.

The 196 scheduled flights at Memphis International for the month were 52 fewer than December 2010 for a 20.9 percent decrease.

The regional-commuter flight and passenger counts still accounted for more than half – 353,401 – of the passengers at Memphis International in December. And there were three times as many scheduled regional-commuter flights – 150 – compared to the 46 flights for the four major carriers.

For the calendar year 2011, total cargo handled was about even with 2010. There was a slight drop of 0.01 percent with the nation’s busiest – and world’s second-busiest – cargo airport handling 8.64 billion pounds of cargo.

The first six months of the current fiscal year were a mirror of that in terms of percentages. Cargo handled increased by 0.19 percent from the first six months of the previous fiscal year.

In cargo counts, the airport saw a 0.46 percent increase in December with 793.8 million pounds compared to 790.1 million pounds in December 2010.

The consistency of cargo in the airport’s unique mix of cargo and passenger counts translated well in the airport’s other balancing act – the one between revenues and expenses.

The airport anticipated revenues for the month of December would be $900,000 lower than expenses. The estimate was in anticipation of a drop in concession revenue from food and beverage sales as well as newsstand and gift sales. And that gross revenue, at $2.3 million, was down 21 percent from December 2010.

But airport authority chief financial officer Forrest Artz said the overall expenses over revenue gap was a smaller $343,000 and the cargo numbers were the reason because of the landing fees paid largely by FedEx Corp.

The year saw other challenges. General DeWitt Spain Airport in Frayser was heavily damaged when a temporary dam on nearby North Second Street broke during the Mississippi River flooding in May.

Traffic to that airport is “slowly coming back,” according to John Greaud, vice president of operations for the airport authority. There will be a few more months of construction to fully restore the airfield.

Construction continued in 2011 on the airport’s ground transportation center, which is ahead of schedule because of the mild winter weather so far. The parking and rental car facility is more than half completed and is tentatively scheduled to open in late summer.

Airport authority president Larry Cox said he and other airport directors across the country are awaiting another temporary reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration by Congress.

The current reauthorization ends this month and Cox said it is unlikely there will be a full reauthorization until after the congressional and presidential general elections in November.

MORTGAGES 54 374 1,120
BUILDING PERMITS 177 767 2,425