Passenger Numbers Continue Drop at Memphis International Airport

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

Memphis International Airport continued in March to feel the impact of earlier Delta Air Lines Inc. cuts, as both passenger traffic and the total number of flights fell.

Total passenger activity slumped 33 percent to 434,570 passengers in March, compared with 648,121 passengers a year earlier. Scheduled flights also declined 28.9 percent to 133, compared with 187 the same period last year.

The March results were announced Thursday, April 18, at the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority’s monthly board of commissioners meeting.

Larry Cox, president of the Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority, said Delta and other airlines are moving more air traffic to larger hubs like Atlanta as they prioritize profit and increased revenue for their shareholders. Delta plans to retire more 50-seat planes in favor of more fuel-efficient and cost-effective larger planes. Cox says that switch continues to worry him.

“We still have times ahead that will be uncertain,” he said.

Last year, Delta began paring its Memphis flight schedule as it diverted more planes to larger hubs, like Atlanta. The airline has warned it may reduce Memphis’ flights more in the future.

Total flights from Delta and its airline partners fell to 95 scheduled flights in March, compared with 152 scheduled during the same year-earlier period. As Delta began paring flights, total origination and destination traffic exceeded connecting flights for the first time in September 2012. Flight transfers have continued to drop.

United Express, AirTran Airways and U.S. Airways all slightly increased scheduled flights in March, compared with last year, but those increases were not enough to offset the large Delta cuts.

For the fiscal year to date – July 1, 2012 through March 31, 2013 – total passenger traffic fell 28.2 percent to 4.3 million passengers, compared with 6 million passengers during the airport’s previous fiscal year to date. The airport’s fiscal year runs July through June.

Cargo continued to buoy revenue for Memphis International, the world’s second-busiest for cargo behind Hong Kong.

Memphis handled 776.9 million pounds in March, down 1.4 percent from 787.7 million pounds in March 2012.

For the fiscal year to date, Memphis International handled 6.73 billion pounds of cargo. That’s up 2.3 percent compared with 6.58 billion pounds of handled cargo during the same year-earlier eight-month period.

In other business, commissioners approved a one-year contract with Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP to conduct an annual audit of the Airport Authority’s financial statement.