Cox Departs Airport Authority as Southwest Adds Flight

By Michael Waddell

Longtime Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority President and CEO Larry Cox celebrated his final board meeting before retirement with the announcement that Southwest Airlines is adding a flight next summer.


Southwest is adding a second daily nonstop flight between Memphis and Baltimore-Washington International Airport in its summer schedule, which begins in June. In November, Southwest also began nonstop service between Memphis and Chicago Midway, Orlando, Houston Hobby and Tampa.

Airport Authority board members and airport staff bid a fond farewell to Cox at the Thursday, Dec. 19, meeting, celebrating his 41 years of service and his contributions to the growth of Memphis International Airport and the surrounding Mid-South region.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with every employee that the Airport Authority has ever had and every board member,” said Cox, who estimated the economic impact of the airport since 1970 at $400 billion to $500 billion. “It’s been great, but it’s time to go.”

Cox recalled the first bond issue handled by the board after it formed in 1970 – a $2.9 million general purpose bond issued for FedEx.

“I think every day, ‘What would Memphis look like without FedEx?’” said Cox, who gave Fred Smith his first tour of the airport.

Cox also explained that he achieved a lifelong personal dream of learning to fly while working at the airport.

“My dad took me flying when I was 5 years old, and I said right then that I wanted to be a pilot,” said Cox, who entered the U.S. Air Force only to find out that he was too tall at 6-7 to fly the planes. “That is how I became an air transportation officer, and that is what led me here. I think my life was meant to be here.”

Cox’s countless accomplishments while at the airport include helping to transform it into the largest cargo airport in the world.

“In spite of the negatives that are floating over us, you’ve positioned us, because of the way our debt’s been structured and the talent you’ve collected, so that our best days are ahead of us,” MSCAA Chairman Jack Sammons said to Cox.

Despite Delta Air Lines ramping down its local presence this year, 2013 brought new service –or the announcement of new service ¬– to Chicago, Denver, Houston, Tampa, Orlando and Baltimore.

For next year, the board is setting its sights on bringing in new service to and from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, as well as Florida and the Gulf Coast.

“The U.S. airline industry is making money,” reported Barney Parrella, executive vice president of InterVISTAS Consulting. “It’s a very cyclical industry, and with the consolidation, the pricing power airlines now have, and the reduction of capacity throughout the system, we have a situation now where airlines are making unprecedented profits.”

Parrella explained that low-cost and ultra low-cost carriers like Allegiant Airlines and Spirit Airlines are making the highest profit margins, averaging above 15 percent.

Interestingly, average fares at Memphis International are dropping while the national average is on the rise.

“The low-cost carriers will be growing in the next six months. Demand for flying is increasing nationwide by about 2 percent, and there is definitely more business travel,” said Parrella, who believes airlines will see opportunity in Memphis’ de-stimulated travel market on a price and a service basis.

The number of nonstop destination flights at Memphis International held steady from October to November, with 42 total daily nonstop destination flights to 33 cities. The overall passenger load factor totaled 66 percent, with US Airways leading the way at 82 percent and Southwest Airlines and United Airlines at 76 percent.

Total enplanements dropped 32 percent for the fiscal year-to-date, from 6.3 million by November 2012 to 4.3 million by November 2013. Compared to November 2012, total enplanements dropped 33 percent, falling from 457,928 enplanements last November to 306,660 in November 2013.

Total cargo handled for the month of November increased 1 percent year-over-year, with roughly 771 million pounds handled compared to 764 million pounds handled in November 2012. For the 2013 fiscal year-to-date, cargo handled is up 3 percent, with 8.1 billion pounds handled through November 2012 versus more than 8.3 billion pounds handled so far this year.