Airport Looks Ahead to More Traffic, New Concourse 

Flights and (hopefully) passengers expected to return, concourse project expected to open next year.

With coronavirus vaccine hopes high, next year holds a golden promise for the world and doubly so for Memphis International Airport (MEM).

Not only will air traffic (probably) rise, airport officials here hope 2021 will cut the ribbon on a concourse modernizations project they launched in 2014.

In March, air traffic at MEM dropped by around 50 percent. This came as officials expected the annual spring break traffic bump. Traffic slumped enough that the airport closed the C security screening checkpoint. Maggie O'Shea's and Moe's closed temporarily.

click to enlarge Memphis International Airport may see concourse modernizations. - MEMPHIS AND SHELBY COUNTY AIRPORT AUTHORITY
  • Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority
  • Memphis International Airport may see concourse modernizations.

In April, the airport said traffic had dropped by as much as 95 percent, which was consistent with the national average. Airlines reduced flight schedules at MEM, and airport officials called schedules "very fluid" and urged passengers to check with airlines before departures.

But more than $24.6 million landed at MEM in April, thanks to federal CARES Act funding. The money was to help offset some of the revenue lost to lower passenger counts. At the time, Scott Brockman, president and CEO of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority (MSCAA), said the money would provide "short-term relief" to the airport finances, which were "significantly impacted" by the pandemic.

"While we expect a gradual recovery of the airline industry, the timing is uncertain at this point, and moving forward, MEM is significantly reducing expenditures and non-essential capital projects in order to address the new budget reality," Brockman said at the time.

But air traffic is slowly taking off again at MEM. On Monday, June 29th, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2,880 passengers and employees, the most since March 16th. Airlines resumed some suspended routes. Total available seats for MEM increased from 81,571 in June to 122,836 in July. Even more flights are expected to resume.

American Airlines flights to Charlotte, Dallas, and Chicago are set to resume next week (Tuesday, September 8th). Delta Air Lines flights to Atlanta, Detroit, and Los Angeles are expected to resume in October. Southwest Airlines flights to Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas are expected to resume in November.

MSCAA chairman Pace Cooper said "it's very encouraging to see passenger numbers and air service rebound at MEM and elsewhere in the U.S." But MEM officials noted that total passenger counts were down 73 percent in June compared to June 2019. However, a recent MEM passenger survey found that 90 percent of respondents said they plan to fly within the next 12 months.

Construction on the airport's massive, $245-million modernization project has continued throughout the pandemic. Construction began to transform Concourse B in 2018. That transformation will ultimately consolidate all airline gates in a single concourse with higher ceilings, more natural light, wider corridors, moving walkways, children play areas, a stage for live music, and more.

Last week, officials said the exterior work was nearly finished. In June the MSCAA picked five public art pieces, in a process led by the UrbanArt Commission. The board also picked new gates seats, which will all come with a drink holder and electrical connection.

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