Memphis airport reopens repaired runway

November 30, 2009

FedEx to reap benefits with holiday shipping.

Memphis International Airport's east-west runway reopened at noon Monday after a nine-month reconstruction costing about $50 million.

The Airport Authority made good on a promise to reopen the runway in time for FedEx's holiday shipping season.

The 8,946-foot-long strip on the northern end of the airfield had been closed since March as contractors ripped out old asphalt and replaced it with a 20-inch deep, 150-foot-wide layer of concrete.

While it was out of service, planes were limited to three north-south runways.

The first plane to take off from and land on the rebuilt runway was a Beechcraft Bonanza A36, single-engine propeller-driven plane piloted by Airport Authority board member and auto dealer Jim Keras.

Authority president and CEO Larry Cox and board members Jim Ethridge and Jon Thompson rode with Keras on a flight to West Memphis and back.

The airport is home to the FedEx World Hub, center of shipping network that's expected to hit this year's daily peak of 13 million packages on Dec. 14.

Spokesman Jim McCluskey said FedEx representatives were on hand for the first takeoff and landing, and the company's cargo planes were expected to start using the runway again Monday night.

"We're very pleased with the opening of the runway," he said. "We will begin using the runway this evening, both inbound and outbound. It will allow us to increase our arrival rate, which makes us more efficient than we already are."

The runway's new concrete surface is expected to last at least 25 years and perhaps 40 to 50 years, considerably longer than asphalt.

The contractor, Ajax Paving Industries, and subcontractors also corrected a "profile deficiency," a dip of as much as three feet in a 1,500-foot-long section at the eastern end of the runway.

The project was complicated by the need to keep taxiway crossings open for FedEx planes traveling between the hub and north-south runways.

Cox said Ajax would remove equipment and clean up the site over the next several weeks. Any remaining punch list items will be completed during off peak hours.

-- Wayne Risher: 529-2874

Copyright, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used with permission.