Last week, the first flight from low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines' Denver hub arrived in Memphis, bringing the number of low-cost airlines at Memphis International Airport to two. Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines set up shop in Memphis this past November.
Memphis International is in the process of shifting from a Delta hub airport to an "origination and destination" (called O&D in the industry) airport, and Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority President Scott Brockman said they're currently courting other low-cost carriers.
Since the first low-cost airline came to Memphis in November, Brockman said they've seen 20,000 more local passengers, which he says means fewer people are driving to nearby airports to fly and more people are able to afford to fly. Memphis, once home to the highest airfares in the country, is now inching its way to the bottom of the top-ten highest airfare list. Brockman took a few minutes to discuss the O&D airport transition. — Bianca Phillips
Flyer: Did the low-cost carriers move here because of Delta's de-hubbing?
Scott Brockman: I think it did impede Southwest coming because Delta was operating 250 flights a day to 90 nonstop destinations. With Delta downsizing, it has opened up the ability of other airlines to compete on a level playing field.
Frontier was here before. They came to Memphis about six or seven years ago and competed head-on with Northwest. Things did not work out well at that time. Frontier offered very good prices and very good frequencies. But Northwest offered additional aircraft on all those routes, matched their fares, and offered double frequent flyer miles. No one rode Frontier, so they left.
The message we have to convey to the public is, the airlines that will bring lower fares need to be served or they will leave and the fares will go back up. It is important that we don't stay totally beholden to our frequent flyer miles.
Will Southwest be expanding here?
By their own admission, they are very happy with how the Memphis market has reacted. But they also realize that it takes time to grow a market that has been a historic hub. You have to wiggle your way into those comfort zones with travelers and get them comfortable with change. They're running very good load factors on all of their flights, to the point that they've added a second flight over the summer to Baltimore-Washington. They are not shy in saying that they want to be Memphis' largest carrier. But they need to get additional aircraft to do so.
Are you actively trying to get other low-cost carriers to come here?
We are trying to bring them to the ball. We want to dance with them, and they haven't accepted the offer yet. There are other low-cost carriers we are courting that, if and when they serve Memphis, will be the push that gets us a lot further away from the top ten in high airfares. That's JetBlue, Spirit, and Allegiant.
You have said that when the airport demolishes parts of the A and C concourses that it will free up taxiway space for multiple airlines to have inbound and outbound flights. Is that a part of the changeover from hub to O&D airport?
Before, Delta operated out of all those gates in the courtyard. They would bring everybody in and off-load and get reloaded. At the point that all flights got in, they were now free to start going out. They could control that. With multiple airlines, you can't do that. They both have a flight that departs at 3:05 p.m., and whoever pushes back into the taxi lane first wins.
It became very evident that you can't have multiple airlines in those courtyards because you will have a delay getting in or out. So then we looked at moving the impediments, which are small pieces of A and C. That frees up the B concourse to be a free-flow.
Where do you see the airport in 10 years?
There is life after de-hubbing. Look at Nashville. Twenty years ago, they lost American. Now they have a wide spectrum of carriers, the largest of which is Southwest. They have a similar number of flights as they had when they were a hub, but it took them 20 years to get there. I don't expect it to take 20 years for Memphis to get there.