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VOL. 6 | NO. 27 | Saturday, June 29, 2013

Editorial: Memphis Must Now File New Flight Plan

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In early 2009, The Memphis News published a cover story analyzing the Delta-Northwest merger, which at the time was undergoing FAA authorization after being inked a few months prior. The report included comments from Delta CEO Richard Anderson, Memphis International Airport executives and airline industry analysts, all of whom were bullish, for the most part, on what the deal meant for Memphis.

Greater Memphis Chamber John Moore even opined that Memphis stood to gain flights and stature, possibly growing into Delta’s “Terminal M” – a nod to concourse designations at the airline’s flagship Atlanta airport.

But even with all the corporate and civic pride about again being a Delta hub, concerns persisted.

Specifically, some wondered what would happen if Delta deemed Memphis superfluous in light of its small size, low origin and destination (O&D) traffic and proximity to Atlanta. So the report also examined the Pittsburgh and Nashville airports, both of which in previous years had suffered the ignominious loss of hub status.

Now Memphis faces that same predicament.

Because Delta is shedding more flights, cutting jobs and dropping Memphis as a U.S. hub, it’s worth taking a closer look at what happened to Nashville when it was de-hubbed by American Airlines in 1996.

This week’s cover story, penned by Nashville writer Hollie Deese, outlines the past 17 years at Nashville International Airport, which survived American’s cuts thanks to Southwest’s increased focus on the city.

Lessons and parallels abound. And while Deese writes that today’s Memphis has an edge on 1996 Nashville, many Memphians might disagree. Citizens here clamor for better, cheaper air service, but a widespread defeatist attitude pervades on message boards, Facebook pages and newspaper comment areas.

Yes, the short-term prospects are abysmal. Not only are Memphis and the airport facing substantial PR hits – for example, how can a city brand itself an aerotropolis without a major airline operating a hub here? – but flight options will continue to diminish in the coming months.

What should be noted, however, is that losing a hub can have a silver lining. Discount carriers can safely set up shop without fear of upsetting the fortress airline, something this city has witnessed firsthand in recent years.

Nashville went through plenty of de-hubbing pain, but over time more economical and plentiful flights lured a growing number of travelers to the airport. The increased demand created more supply, which in turn created competitive fares and bustling activity, helping the airport flourish.

The Nashville model isn’t perfect for Memphis. But with deft maneuvers from the Airport Authority and a traveling citizenry that takes advantages of the flights offered here, Memphis International has a chance to right itself and soar above the turbulence.

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