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VOL. 130 | NO. 121 | Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Airport Leaders Talk Post-Delta Era

By Bill Dries

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Two years ago this month, Delta Air Lines executives told officials at Memphis International Airport that Memphis would no longer be a Delta hub, an announcement that came after a series of cuts in the number of daily flights.

Now Memphis International is in the midst of a transition to an origin-and-destination airport built around a lower number of flights on domestic and discount airlines to fewer destinations but at lower prices.

“Air service is starting to come together,” Airport Authority president Scott Brockman said on the WKNO TV program Behind The Headlines. “We are at the end of the Delta changes.”

BROCKMAN

The program is hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes and can be seen at video.memphisdailynews.com, The Daily News Video page.

Two years after dehubbing Memphis, Delta has continued flight cuts here. In January, Delta ended nonstop flights to three destinations, and in April the airline ended nonstop flights to Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.

“It is past us,” said Airport Authority board chairman Pace Cooper who became chairman in May. “It’s hard for a lot of us to forget because we really were spoiled with a bit of overachievement in an air hub.”

When fuel prices soared, Cooper said a “harsh reality” set in despite pledges by Delta about Memphis remaining a hub and airport leadership believing those pledges.

COOPER

Cooper said Memphis’ proximity to Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta was probably always a harbinger of what would happen.

“Delta had this option of consolidating into Atlanta,” he said. “It didn’t take a lot of prognostication that that could have evolved. Though they promised otherwise, we all wanted to hear what we wanted to hear.”

The Delta hub in Memphis, which was a continuation of Northwest Airlines’ earlier presence, made the airport dependent on connections when it was offering 250 daily flights out of Memphis at its peak.

Cooper said it will be hard to rebuild a platform that large; Memphis International is restructuring itself as an origin-and-destination airport, which is one where most passengers are not transferring from another flight but are beginning or ending their journey in Memphis.

And Cooper said it involves a change of habit for Memphis passengers used to going with Delta at both ends of their trips.

“You have to try it,” he said. “A lot of people were almost addicted to the frequency program of Delta Air Lines. … But once you try it … you realize loyalty is great but I’ve got to do what’s best for affordability for my company.”

Brockman said ticket prices at MEM still aren’t as low as they need to be – about $75 below the top prices.

“But we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “As we continued to add carriers it should help us move further down that way.”

Those carriers that once wouldn’t consider coming into Memphis – because Delta and Northwest each used their hub status to undercut competitors and then raise prices once those competitors left – are “slowly” coming to the Memphis mix, Brockman said.

“They have a much more optimistic view of coming into Memphis,” he said. “It is actually a very good opportunity from a standpoint of marketing Memphis as a destination.”

Brockman admits the three concourses look deserted at different times of the day. But a coming consolidation of the carriers and vendors into the B concourse, along with a widening of that concourse, should remedy that.

“When we bring them together it will look different,” he said. “We are going to bring everybody to B.”

Currently Southwest Airlines and Allegiant are in the A concourse, Delta is in B and American, Frontier, United and US Airways are in C.

Cooper said the consolidation along with the mothballing of the A and C concourses for the immediate future will be “a compelling concept.”

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