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VOL. 128 | NO. 77 | Friday, April 19, 2013

Sammons Determined to Bring New Service to MEM

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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While he’s well aware of the hurdles, Jack Sammons told the members of the Memphis World Trade Club he’s determined to “relentlessly” solicit new air service providers to fly in and out of Memphis International Airport.

Sammons, who was nominated as the new chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority at the beginning of this year, spoke to the club Tuesday, April 16, at its monthly meeting at Chickasaw Country Club.

Sammons said his goal is bringing affordable and frequent service to the airport amid public criticism over high airfares and fewer flights. The most recent challenges came after Delta Air Lines announced in November it would pare its Memphis flight schedule by about 18 percent to account for reduced passenger demand.

The Atlanta-based airline said it would drop all of its nonstop service to Birmingham, Ala., and Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville, Fla., in addition to cutting the number of daily flights it offers to 11 other cities. Delta also said it may reduce Memphis’ flights more if demand continues to drop.

Regional hubs like Memphis have declined in recent years as airlines have made the switch from smaller regional jets – which are less fuel efficient – to larger planes that fly in and out of bigger hubs.

“It’s harder to justify flying these smaller airplanes. The CRJs that made these hubs profitable are now dinosaurs.”

–Jack Sammons

As airlines rapidly retire regional jets, the switch to larger planes has hit airports like Memphis International that have traditionally relied on regional planes. U.S. airlines also are moving to higher profit international routes.

“It’s harder to justify flying these smaller airplanes,” Sammons said. “The CRJs (smaller regional jets) that made these hubs profitable are now dinosaurs.”

Sammons a former Memphis City Councilman, commodities trader and president of hair-care products maker Ampro Industries, remains optimistic that Southwest Airlines will help alleviate some of the passenger challenges, but he told Memphis World Trade Club members the community needs to welcome the airline with open arms.

“If we have an aggressive approach, it will make a huge difference,” he said.

He encouraged trade club members and the Memphis public to join the airline’s rapid rewards program and to consider opening a credit card that accrues Southwest miles with purchases. Those metrics could help convince the airline to add more Memphis flights, Sammons said.

Currently, customers can book AirTran flights in and out of Memphis, but they’ll still have to connect in other cities for Southwest flights. With the completion of the network merger, customers can purchase itineraries to more than 97 destinations in one transaction.

Southwest has said it plans to offer Southwest service at Memphis International Airport later this year.

“It’s a great interim solution, especially in Memphis, until we can introduce Southwest service later this year,” said Chris Mainz, a spokesman for the airline.

Southwest acquired AirTran in May 2011 in a $1 billion cash-and-stock deal.

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