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Reason To Smile?

Can Jack Sammons bring real change to the Memphis airport?

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When editors of the next edition of this or that dictionary are searching for something to illustrate the word "irrepressible," they need look no further than Jack Sammons, the newly named chairman of the Memphis-

Shelby County Airport Authority, who downplays his other considerable skills by referring to himself as a "salesman."

But no Willy Loman is he. Sammons, a versatile businessman/entrepreneur and longtime member of the Memphis City Council, not only has the brightest Cheshire cat smile in our corner of the Western world, he has the most unquenchable optimism.

And therefore, when Sammons took his sales pitch on the future good prospects of the airport to a Memphis Rotary Club luncheon this week, he made no effort to ignore the airport's "awesome challenges," which he laid on the table as problems to be solved. Some of these problems transcend our local sphere. Sammons said the airline industry itself has diminished by 16 percent since September 10, 2001, the day before the attacks on New York's World Trade Center transformed the nation's commercial and personal habits.

That same number — 16 — also describes the number of airline hubs that have gone out of existence since 1990. We all know about the ongoing mergers, such as Northwest's absorption by Delta, which has drastically downsized its inherited Memphis hub operation to a nominal presence.

Sammons offered a bit of good news on this latter point, saying he talked with Delta's CEO last week and was assured that "no more Draconian cuts" are in the offing. For what it's worth, Sammons also got himself invited to serve on the airline's "Customer Advisory Board." Hopefully, he will lobby forcefully on behalf of Memphians who have seen their available flights reduced while rates have continued to rise.

Sammons said he has also been engaging with officials of Southwest Airlines, the low-cost carrier that has become a national phenomenon among airlines and which, at long last, is due to initiate new service in Memphis during the coming year through its AirTran acquisition.

Sammons said he pushed for more flights and was told, "The more you take, the more you'll get." To Sammons, that meant advising his audience to join Southwest's Rapid Rewards program to demonstrate a strong local commitment.

Unsurprisingly, Sammons touted the inestimable value of FedEx to Memphis' air operations, in ways ranging from its contribution to landing fees to the company's transformation of Memphis into "the Bethlehem of cargo aviation." He also cited the value to the airport of the new, multi-decker parking garage, which Sammons considers a potential cash cow.

There's big-picture stuff, and there's good housekeeping to be taken care of. On the latter score, Sammons promised to pursue such improvements as internal rental-car decks, internet availability everywhere on the property, and more people-friendly attitudes everywhere — including, he assured the Rotarians, on the part of TSA inspectors.

It's good that Sammons is smiling. Now, if he can only get the air-traveling public hereabouts to do the same, we'll truly have something.

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