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VOL. 129 | NO. 185 | Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brockman: Memphis Airport in ‘Good Position’

By Bill Dries

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Memphis International Airport is building its new identity at a steady pace one year to the month after Delta Air Lines enacted the cuts that came with its dehubbing of the airport.

And the president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority says the state of the airport is sound and good.

“It doesn’t appear that way in numbers because it’s still measured against the past, which shows the declines in flights by Delta,” Scott Brockman said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “We have pretty much, I think, hit bottom on those (Delta) reductions. There will be minor tweaks here and there.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Even after the dehubbing cuts in September 2013, Delta continued further cuts of Memphis services, including eliminating Memphis service to Denver and Austin, Texas, effective in October. Meanwhile, Frontier added a Memphis-Denver route in March and added service to Washington this month. Southwest and United are adding flights to Houston in November.

BROCKMAN

“If you’ve got to lose the hub – which nobody wants to do – the reality is we are in very good position as we go forward post-hub,” Brockman said. “In less than a year we’ve already added the announcement of 20 new flights.”

With the growth, Memphis International Airport has dropped in another ranking – highest airfares. Memphis International was once in the top three for passenger service and is now out of the top 10. Brockman said the goal is to get out of the top 25 in that category.

Even before the dehubbing took effect a year ago, the Delta cuts that preceded it flipped the basic metrics of who the airport served.

For more than a year now, the airport’s monthly passenger counts have shown a majority of the airport passenger traffic is in origin-and-destination traffic – passengers who come to the airport to catch a flight out of Memphis or arrive in Memphis as a destination, not to connect to another flight.

Brockman, who became CEO nine months ago, terms it a “reinvention” of the airport and the airport authority.

“At the peak, we had 6 million enplaned passengers. … Seventy percent of those were transfers,” he said. “They never left the airport. Now we have roughly 2 million enplanements and 98 percent of those are local. The evolution has totally turned. Now we are focused on providing air service that the local community needs and delivering service and product specifically for the local cities.”

With a majority of its passenger traffic now origin-and-destination traffic, the expanding parking garage of 4,500 spaces on seven levels becomes more important.

On most days, the parking complex is half-full, but it makes money every day for the airport authority, Brockman said.

“We intentionally built it extremely large for the future,” he said. “There’s been a shift. People that used to get dropped off … are now parking for $6 a day in the economy lot. We’re winning back customers. We have shifted from an airport that was dominated by transfer passengers. They spent literally 45 minutes to an hour and a half in the airport.”

The airport is also shifting its marketing and branding to do something it didn’t have to do with a Delta hub: persuade air travelers to choose Memphis and its air carriers.

That includes a central airport website that lists every available flight in and out of Memphis International and their schedules, which can’t be found on popular travel sites such as Travelocity and Expedia.

“Southwest Airlines does not utilize those sites. You won’t find Frontier or Southwest on those sites,” Brockman said. “So what we are going to do to try to assist Memphians, Mid-Southerners, to look at all options is we are going to put a flight guide on our website.”

Still to come is a design to widen the B concourse of the airport, the most used of the three concourses, and reconfigure concessions in that concourse. That widening begins after parts of the A and C concourses are demolished, taking out 20 gates between the two to allow for the expansion of the B concourse. In the mothballing of two of the three concourses, a total of 63 gates will remain available.

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