Came across this article and I was wondering if anyone knew of any specific passenger flights to the pacific. When FedEx gets the A380, I guess they will be flying from here?
Airport improvements are
solidifying Memphis' position
in the global marketplace.
By Nicky Robertshaw
Larry Cox, president and CEO
of the Airport Authority
Photo by Troy Glasgow
To a passenger peering out of the airplane window, Runway 18C-36C, the latest
addition to Memphis International Airport’s airfield, appears to be just a two-mile
slab of concrete.
But this stretch of pavement, extending 2,000 feet farther than the airport’s
next-longest, is critical to the current and future needs of the airport, its
mega-tenants Federal Express and Northwest Airlines, and the city’s economy,
which depends on the airport to some degree for one out of every five jobs.
Dubbed the World Runway, the new runway is 11,100 feet long, which allows the
internationally bound airplanes using it to carry more cargo and to fly nonstop to
more distant cities such as Tokyo. (Large planes heavily loaded with maximum
cargo or fuel for a long trip need more "roll" to achieve liftoff than is available on
shorter runways.) That’s a big boost to FedEx’s practice of moving packages as
quickly as possible through its Memphis SuperHub, and to the airport’s push to
attract more overseas flights.
"We have as our goal at the airport to broaden the international service we offer
by increasing the number of transatlantic flights and by initiating service to the
Pacific," says Arnold E. Perl, a partner with the law firm Young & Perl and
chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. "We are putting in
place, sooner rather than later, an infrastructure that will support our goal. So, we
will be faithful to our vision of being a world-class airport and to our mission of
providing services above and beyond the expectations of the traveling public and
the citizens of the Mid-South area."
The World Runway also puts the airport far ahead of other cities’ airports, since it
can handle the next generation of large, international airplanes that will be
available to commercial airlines in a few years. These planes, such as the Airbus
3XX, have been designed to carry as many as 650 passengers–compared with
350 to 400 for the largest 747–and as much as 75 percent more cargo than the
The World Runway project is part of more than $400 million in capital
improvements that are being made on the airfield and in the terminals and parking
areas. The runway, which cost $100 million (including associated taxiways, the
aircraft bridge across Winchester Road, and other roadwork), is three feet thick.
Equipped with an exclusive, sophisticated surface movement guidance system, the
runway allows planes to land and taxi in when visibility is low.
Both FedEx and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Northwest’s partner and the
operator of daily, nonstop service to Amsterdam, will realize benefits from the
runway the day it opens. FedEx will immediately be able to load 20 to 30 percent
more cargo onto its international flights out of Memphis, and fly nonstop to Japan
instead of stopping for fuel in Anchorage. KLM’s daily flight to Amsterdam will
be able to carry a full payload, which couldn’t be done during hot weather with
the shorter runway. (Air is thinner during hot weather, which means the plane, in
proportion to its weight, needs to roll farther before it can reach flying speed.)
These increases are in line with the robust growth Memphis International Airport
is experiencing these days. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration
predicted–in its 1997 growth projections for the nation’s 100 principal
airports–that Memphis’ airport would be one of the 10 fastest-growing airports in
the country through 2010.
"It was nothing but a forecast at that time," Perl says, "but looking at the events as
they’ve unfolded, especially with the Northwest increase in service, the largest in
its corporate history, on June 1, and the continued expansion of Federal Express, it
looks like the growth forecast was very much on target."
Even before that, Memphis was the world’s busiest cargo airport, and it continues
to be–it handled some 2.4 million metric tons of cargo in 1999, thanks mainly to
FedEx. On the passenger side of the equation, with the 48 daily flights Northwest
added in June, the airport now has 630 departures and arrivals each day,
according to airport statistics.
Given the airport’s economic impact, the increasing airport activity is very good
news for Memphis and the Mid-South. In 1997, the airport had a $9.8 million total
direct and indirect financial impact on the Memphis regional economy, according
to a 1998 study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the
University of Memphis (U of M). Today, Perl says he believes the financial
impact exceeds $13 billion a year.
According to the U of M study, the airport, "through its impact on numerous local
businesses, from passenger and cargo operations to warehousing and
manufacturing, has an impact on 110,683 (or one in five) jobs in the Memphis
Although the study didn’t quantify the dollars-and-cents impact of the World
Runway on the regional economy, it estimated that the new runway should help
expand airport operating revenues by 7 to 8 percent each year during it’s first five
years of operation.
The fact that Memphis has a much smaller population base than Detroit and
Minneapolis, Northwest’s other hub cities, means that the economic benefits
derived from the airport loom larger, Perl says.
"There is no other city in the United States where the airport represents to the
economy what this airport represents as the economic engine to the Mid-South,"
says Perl. "The combination of passenger and cargo makes this airport unique."
While Atlanta may have a huge passenger hub, it has relatively little cargo. And
while Louisville is home to the UPS hub, it is not a passenger airline hub, Perl
Given the economic boost that FedEx provides to the local economy, it’s not
surprising that the airport authority works closely with company executives to
make sure it is providing the runways and other infrastructure the company needs
to operate. These efforts are not lost on FedEx executives.
"They do a great job, and I think the thing that really helps is they understand our
business," says Ross J. Guscette, FedEx’s senior manager of airport relations and
"[The runway’s installation] gives us greater capacity on our existing routes, and
gives us a long-term ability to [fly to] Asian markets nonstop, even [to fly] larger
airplanes if that were to happen," says Guscette. "That puts Memphis on par with
other international gateways around the world, including European gateways such
as London and Paris; with Hong Kong; and with major U.S. gateways such as
Chicago and Los Angeles."
From Memphis, FedEx currently operates international flights to Europe, to Latin
America, and–via Anchorage–to Asia, mainly using MD11s, according to
Guscette. As markets develop around the world, FedEx will add Memphis flights
to more international destinations, he says. Currently, FedEx operates 182 gates,
making it the world’s largest cargo terminal, Guscette says.
In connection with the new World Runway and its ongoing improvements, FedEx
is building five additional loading gates at its Memphis SuperHub, which should be
operational before the busy holiday season. In addition, the airport is building a
high-speed ramp off the east-west runway, allowing FedEx planes to exit the
runway faster, says Guscette.
"Every second is critical to us. The faster we get the airplanes to the gate, the
faster the packages get sorted. The most important thing is that we deliver on
time, and deliver what we guarantee to our customers," Guscette says.
In addition to the jobs and direct economic benefits it provides, FedEx also is a
magnet for attracting distribution center development to Memphis. Most recently,
with the rapid expansion of E-commerce, Internet retail businesses including
barnesandnoble.com and Planet Rx have opened facilities in Memphis, helping
them get their goods to customers as fast as possible.
On the passenger side, Northwest Airlines, which dominates the airport’s
passenger traffic with 63.7 percent of bookings and ticket sales and 80 percent of
available seats, is enthusiastic about the possibilities that the World Runway
provides, as well as its immediate impact.
"Right off the bat, it removes any weight restrictions on KLM’s flight to
Amsterdam," says John W. Moore, regional vice president of state and local
affairs and communications for Northwest Airlines. Before, when the plane was
fully booked with passengers during very hot weather, KLM could not put a full
load of cargo on the plane because of limited runway length, Moore explains.
As for future, expanded international flights by Northwest or its partner KLM,
there are no firm plans at the present, Moore says. He points out that such
decisions will depend on demand–both by connecting passengers and by those
flying to and from Memphis–as well as on having the right aircraft. For example,
the only plane that Northwest currently owns that can fly to Japan is the Boeing
747-400, which–with 400 seats–is far too big for the demand in Memphis.
Despite these concerns, Moore is enthusiastic about the new runway. "I’d say,
optimistically, the future looks good," he adds.
For European flights, a lot depends on the alliances struck among carriers,
according to Larry Cox, the longtime president and CEO of the Airport Authority.
For example, if an alliance between KLM and British Airways becomes a reality,
that makes Memphis-to-London flights a likely addition. For the transpacific flight
to become a reality, the Japanese economy needs to improve significantly, the
new runway under construction at Tokyo’s Narita Airport must be completed,
and Northwest must acquire the type of aircraft that makes Memphis-to-Japan
service practical and profitable, Cox says.
In any case, additional international passenger flights to Memphis would provide
an important boost to the city’s tourism, and the Memphis Convention and Visitors
Bureau (CVB) is already busy with plans to make the most of the influx of
tourists when this happens.
Regena Bearden–the CVB’s vice president of tourism–and her staff are already
at work in Japan and in European countries that likely will have nonstop flights to
Memphis in the future. Once a new destination is announced, "we would not have
to adjust our activity a lot, just beef it up," Bearden says.
Memphis has been successful in persuading passengers on KLM’s direct flight
here to spend some time in the city. In fact, the CVB has found that 38 percent of
passengers are getting off the plane and staying in Memphis. This is considered a
high number in the tourism business.
"It’s one thing to have an international flight to your city, but it’s a whole other
thing to try and get them off the plane and staying in Memphis," Bearden says.
"Many cities–including Atlanta–aren’t able to do that, but I believe Memphis has
the international appeal that gets them off the plane." International tourists are
attractive to the economy because they tend to stay longer and spend more
money than domestic tourists do, according to Bearden.
Memphis International Airport will be ready for the extra passenger traffic, from
both international and domestic flights in and out of Memphis, as air travel
continues to grow. The terminal is being reconstructed and gates are being added
to accommodate state-of-the-art commuter jets that operators of Northwest
Airlink are flying in and out of Memphis. The airport is also undergoing renovation
to create space for additional concessions and amenities.
The airport authority estimates it is investing $100 million on terminal
improvements over the next two years. Northwest Airlines this year is investing
$51.5 million on new gates and improvements to its terminal operations, Moore
says, and by 2004, that investment is projected to reach $203 million.
Northwest’s current improvements to the Memphis terminal include a new,
8,000-square-foot World Club, under construction between Terminals B and C,
which will be the prototype for the new generation of the carrier’s clubs. The
new club is expected to be finished in November, and after monitoring the traffic,
Northwest will decide whether to close the existing World Club at Terminal A, or
to upgrade it–to the tune of $2 million to $2.5 million–so that Memphis would have
two clubs, Moore says.
Although the airport recently completed repairs to its parking facility, it will totally
rebuild and expand the facility over the next few years at a cost of $70 million,
Cox says. The project, which will be undertaken in phases to minimize traffic
disruptions, will double the number of parking places to 6,500, and will add moving
sidewalks and artwork to make the parking area more convenient and pleasant,
Work will also continue on the airfield, with plans to upgrade the west taxiway
that runs parallel to the three main runways to runway quality. The taxiway then
will be put to use as a runway in 2002, while the airport reconstructs the west
runway to modern standards. The center runway was built in 1997.
Improvements will continue after that, if the past is any indication. "I’ve been here
for 28 years, and heavy construction has been ongoing every day I’ve been here,"
Cox says. "And it will never stop."
As a result, airport officials have a very specific vision of Memphis International
Airport five years from now.
"The terminal will have a different face in the next five years," Perl says. In
addition to the vastly improved terminal with twice as much parking, officials also
envision a well-maintained, state-of-the-art airfield with four runways that include
the three parallel runways FedEx and Northwest need in order to operate
Central to this vision is the World Runway, which enables FedEx, Northwest, and
other carriers with the right aircraft to fly out of Memphis to any destination in the
world. As for scheduled international passenger service, airport officials say they
are confident there will be additional flights to Europe by 2005, as well as nonstop
flights to Japan, using the World Runway.
"It’s a lead-pipe cinch we’ll get more frequencies to Europe," Cox says. "The
question is where those frequencies are going to go. Amsterdam? Maybe.
London? Maybe. Frankfurt? Maybe. Milan or Rome? Maybe. As for flights to
Japan, the question is not ‘if’; it’s ‘when.’ Five years from now, I think we will
definitely have that flight."