Sammons will be a different airport leader than his predecessor

January 17, 2013

Andy Ashby, Staff writer- Memphis Business Journal

http://www.bizjournals.com/memphis/blog/memphis-in-motion/2013/01/sammons-will-be-a-different-airport.html

Thursday, January17, 2013

What can Mid-Southerners expect from Jack Sammons, newly elected chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority?

One thing would be a difference in style from recently retired chairman Arnold Perl.

While Sammons was the newest board member on the authority, Perl had been on the board for 30 years, including 16 as chairman.

To offset his relative inexperience, Sammons said he plans on relying heavily on airport president Larry Cox’s experience.

“I intend to wear Larry out, and other experts, with questions,” Sammons said.

Sammons said the airport is financially strong, pointing out FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) pays 80 percent of the airport’s landing fees.

“This has helped us build a strong balance sheet and an impressive inventory of capital improvements,” Sammons said. “Thankfully, as our passenger hub status is evolving, we don’t have the financial challenges of other airports.”

That said, the airline industry is changing, as 16 hubs have failed since 1990 and there are soon to be only three major carriers.

“The airline industry is constricting, not growing,” Sammons said.

That’s where another difference between Sammons and Perl might be very visible.

Perl is a high-level lawyer while Sammons — president of Ampro Industries Inc. who has flown thousands of miles in that capacity — is a salesman.

This showed when Sammons referred to people flying through the airport as “customers.”

He said he understands the frustration of someone seeing a flight from Little Rock or Nashville stop over in Memphis on its way to Los Angeles and still be a third of the price of a direct flight from Memphis.

“They’re confused, they don’t understand it and they’re angry,” Sammons said. “These angry customers are not strangers to us. They’re our family members, they’re our friends and they’re our co-workers.”

Sammons said the airport authority needs to develop a process to get public input.

“In the end, the future of this airport is everybody’s business,” Sammons said.

This mirrors some of the sentiment of Tom Jones, the principal of Smart City Consulting who founded Delta Does Memphis, a Facebook page with more than 5,800 members.

“I don’t think the public generally is asking for miracle workers at the airport,” Jones said in an earlier interview with the Memphis Business Journal. “They just want somebody they can feel is representing them. It’s a public board and I think the public wants to see they’re there serving us, they’re not just there serving Delta’s interests.”