Memphis airport’s future uncertain if Northwest and Delta merge operations

Memphis airport’s future uncertain if Northwest and Delta merge operations

By: AP

MEMPHIS (AP) — The future of the Memphis airport hub is hanging on whether Northwest Airlines is acquired by another carrier like Delta Air Lines.
Such a combination could “de-hub” Memphis because it is so close to Delta’s hub in Atlanta, air travel experts say.
The impact of losing the hub would range from the end of the city’s daily international flight to Amsterdam to a sharp decline in federal development grants that fund security advancements and expansion.
But the change travelers might feel the most is the loss of the direct flights out of Memphis and the connecting flights running through the airport.
Northwest and Delta haven’t confirmed merger talks are under way. But U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota, where Northwest is headquartered, said last week that Northwest officials told him merger discussions have begun. Delta also is considering United Airlines as a new partner, he said.
“Of all the possible combinations, Northwest-Delta is the one that gives me the most concern,” said Larry Cox, president and chief executive of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “Most of the markets served by Northwest in Memphis are served in Atlanta with more frequencies.”
Business travelers trying to arrive at or leave from Memphis would be facing a lot more connecting flights, according to Vicki Rush of A&I Travel.
“You automatically go from having 125 nonstop flights to connecting all over the place,” Rush said. “It’s a depressing prospect with a major impact on Memphis.”
That could hurt efforts to recruit new companies to the city, she said.
“Access to a large number of nonstop flights is a very big issue for businesses. In business, it is all about time,” Rush said.
Businesses based at the airport are concerned, too.
Jim Neely invested $1 million in facilities and equipment to sell his eponymous world-famous barbecue at the airport.
“Without Northwest, the airport would be a ghost town,” Neely said. “It will come back, like it has in Nashville, but in the meantime, what do you do with the businesses there?”
Nashville lost the American Airlines hub in the 1990s. But the departure created an opening for low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines to move in and become the city’s dominant airline, a boon for tourist and business travel.
Memphis could still have a hub future if it offers price advantages, experts say.
“Memphis has got to sell its coffee for $4.95 instead of $5 and have the cheapest landing fees,” said analyst Terry Trippler.
He thinks Memphis has another advantage as a site that helps ease airport congestion.
“All you’re going to have is Atlanta in the South, and it is so crowded. How long do you want to see the security lines?” Trippler said.
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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com
Published in The Messenger 1.23.08

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