Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Mariachi Band Was a Bad Omen for Aerotropolis

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Memphis as America's Aerotropolis can't catch a break.

The latest news is Delta Airlines' decision to halt the Memphis to Amsterdam direct service via KLM from September 2012 to May 2013 and make it seasonal after that. The story was first reported by The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal.

Delta has been steadily cutting back service in Memphis even as the airport expands and modernizes. The Ground Transportation Center, a $89 million project announced by the airport authority in 2010, is scheduled for completion this year. A new $72 million tower opened last year in November.

In an interview for MBQ magazine, International Paper CEO John Faraci told me the trend is troubling for the Fortune 500 company that employs more than 2000 people in the Memphis area.

"Yes it is a problem. Especially on the international side. On direct flights from Memphis to anywhere we are impacted because we're a global company. Memphis not being the hub it once was, it's more difficult for us. We can deal with it. We have our own fleet of planes. But the more nonstops, the better off you are."

Getting in and out of the airport has never been easier for those who fly. The problem is the highest average fares in the country, the declining number of North American direct connections, and now the Amsterdam news, which leaves Toronto as the only real claim to international status.

It seems like every time someone tries to drum up some good news about the airport it backfires. University of Memphis Athletic Director R. C. Johnson was widely mocked when he said "Memphis has a great airport" as a strange rejoiner to the firing of football coach Tommy West in 2009.

In 2010, Delta and the Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Amsterdam flight in this announcement that only highlights the pain of the latest announcement.

"America's Aerotropolis" is the theme of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority promotion of the airport. There was a world conference in Memphis in 2011. But the conference had to compete with some discouraging news.

In January of 2011, city officials and the chamber of commerce called a news conference to announce service to Mexico City and then it was promptly canceled. The new service, which only operated on Saturday, lasted exactly four flights. Bad idea all around. It is never a good idea for people in business attire to put on a topper any larger than a baseball hat or a hardhat. A sombrero photo would have lived in infamy.

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