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"Is bigger better? Memphis airport officials think so"


 
Thursday, January 19, 2017

Is bigger better? Memphis airport officials think so
By Wayne Risher
USA TODAY


A behemoth 230-seat Airbus will land at Memphis International Airport on
April 21, the largest passenger carrier seen there in five years, continuing
a trend toward bigger planes serving a relatively small number of routes.

Because of the additional airlift of bigger planes, the airport served
nearly two million local passengers last year with only about 80 flights a
day, compared to nearly 300 flights a day at the height of the old
Delta/Northwest hub.

While the flying public has watched with dismay as the number of flights
nose-dived, airport president Scott Brockman told the airport board Thursday
that an untold story is the near-disappearance of 50-seat regional jets that
once dominated Memphis service.

If Memphis were still served by the same mix of aircraft as it was in 2011,
it would take 145 flights a day to carry the airport's passenger volume,
Brockman said.

Emblematic of the change is Frontier Airlines' announcement last week it
will bring in an Airbus A321 to serve the Memphis-Denver route in April. It
will replace a 150-seat Airbus A319 and provide 560 more seats a week, a 65
percent increase, between Memphis and Denver.

Other examples include American Airlines' switch to an Airbus A319 to
Phoenix, United's addition of  179-seat, mainline Boeing 737-900 service to
Chicago and Denver and Allegiant's move to a 177-seat Airbus A320.

Small regional jets accounted for 61 percent of seats on Memphis flights in
2011, compared to 14 percent last year. Mainline jets like the big Airbus
carried 48 percent of Memphis passengers last year, compared to 22 percent
in 2011, Brockman said.

The move away from small regionals is part of a national trend that
contributed to the bankruptcy of former Memphis-based regional carrier
Pinnacle Airlines. It left town, changed names and became a Delta
subsidiary.

Airport officials expect the number of local passengers, those who are
traveling to or from Memphis, to continue to grow in 2017, nudging above the
2 million mark, chief financial officer Forrest Artz said.

During the hub era, the vast majority of passengers passing through Memphis
made connections and never set foot in Memphis outside the airport.

Brockman said Memphis added seven new routes in 2016 and announced two more
for 2017, including a return of international service with an Air Canada
flight to Toronto starting May 1.

Average air fares dropped $27, a 6 percent decrease, and total capacity
increased 9.3 percent, or 605 seats a day, Brockman said.

Airfares out of Memphis International Airport dropped to $388.83 on average
last summer, posting a year-over-year decline for the 16th consecutive
quarter, the Department of Transportation said Wednesday..

The airport, once known for some of the nation's highest fares, ranked 25th
highest among the busiest 100 U.S. airports.

The Department of Transportation said average domestic roundtrip fare from
Memphis was down $7.84 from the July-September quarter of 2015.

Officials said the fare is down nearly $160, adjusted for inflation, since a
2012 peak.

The board also approved a $1.6 million contract with A&B Construction Co., a
female-owned Memphis company, to build a temporary airfield maintenance
facility on Swinnea Road. A&B was the lowest of four bids, followed by Chris
Woods Construction Co. at $2.4 million. 

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