One theme that we’ve been emphasizing recently at the Memphis International Airport is “The Relentless Pursuit of Frequent and Affordable Air Service.” How did we get here? What does this mean? And, what are we doing about it?
For about 20 years, MEM and the Mid-South were blessed to have more air service than the local market could support. Historically, our local market purchased between 30 and 40 percent of the seats offered. What that means is that 60-70 percent of the seats were purchased by people transferring or switching planes in Memphis. While having a transfer hub offered tremendous opportunities for over 90 non-stop travel destinations, it also created higher-priced air fares. It also created an environment where new low-cost airlines viewed MEM startup as a risky venture at best.
We only expect about two percent of our passengers to be transfer passengers this fiscal year. That means that MEM has become an origin and destination or “O&D” airport. As Delta continued to eliminate flights, MEM became more and more enticing as a market. The potential of the opportunity was clearly becoming “real” as we gained momentum by adding service from both new and existing airlines.
On the other hand, I believe we are now an underserved community. We believe there is sufficient demand and opportunities for airlines to provide non-stop service to cities such as Boston, Fort Lauderdale, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Miami, or Phoenix. We also believe there is a market for additional flights to Los Angeles or New York LaGuardia. American Airlines just added service to Philadelphia, or that market would also be on the list.
We are working to build a two-tiered prioritized air service list that identifies targeted markets, analyzes market demand and the various potential airlines that could provide the service. In some cases, the best airline to serve a particular market may be an airline we already have. In other cases, we are trying to gain access and convince new airlines such as JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin American, Alaska, Allegiant, Silver, or others to start new service at MEM. This process can take months or even years just to be considered for a meeting, but we have had a number of discussions with most of these airlines and we’ll continue to do so.
We will also be adding a new position, a Senior Manager of Air Service Research and Development, later this year. This employee will be our lead in working with our many corporate partners to identify where they need to go, how often, and which of their clients need nonstop air service to Memphis.
We are reinventing ourselves at MEM. It’s not an overnight process, and we know there are many things we need to enhance and improve. We’re committed to delivering a “Positively MEMorable” travel experience to our passengers, and we’ll keep working hard to achieve that goal.