Golden Triangle Regional Airport will lose its Memphis service as of September GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey announced at the board’s May20 meeting. The last Memphis flight is scheduled for September 6.
Delta’s Memphis service was inaugurated on May 4, 2009. Memphis service had previously been provided by Northwest Airlines, who canceled service in 2003.
The cancellation is not specific to GTR, Hainsey said. Delta is sharply reducing overall flights to Memphis.
“Delta told me a couple of weeks ago that we were losing the Memphis flight because of reductions in Memphis,” he said. “They are taking down 25% of the flights through Memphis, but more importantly they’re going from three concourses to just one so the amount of gate space is very limited at certain times of the day.
“They looked at our load factors to Memphis and where our people who were flying through there were going to,” Hainsey said. “They tried to figure out if those people could be served by other flights through Atlanta, and the answer was yes. Most of them were going to big cities and could be served through Atlanta.”
Delta originally planned to cut GTRA to two flights a day, but Hainsey said he was able to convince them to keep GTRA at three.
“They originally did not put our overnight flight back to Atlanta, so we were just going to have a morning and mid-afternoon flight,” he said. “I negotiated with them over it. They are in such a reduction mode because of fuel prices that they’re trying to reduce their small carriers. They did it automatically to everybody. Anyone with small airplanes lost flights. They expect us to come to them and justify keeping our flights, and that’s what we did. We showed them the revenue and the load factors. They looked at what we have had in May already, and they gave us the flight back.”
The flight times will remain essentially the same as they are now, Hainsey said.
“The bad part of this is that westbound travelers will have to go through Memphis,” Hainsey said. “The good part is that there are many connections through Atlanta, especially in the early morning and evening. Through Memphis, if you were going to DC there was a connection 50 minutes after our flight landed, but the next one was three hours later and the one after that was four hours later. There were only three to four connections. In Atlanta, there’s one an hour.”
“How much of our traffic do you think we’ll maintain with the change?” asked board President Bobby Harper.
“Because they looked at the analysis of our destinations, they told me that they don’t think we’ll lose any,” Hainsey said. “The cities that were served through Memphis are, in most cases, served better through Atlanta. They are focusing back on Atlanta and taking away from Memphis.”
“What happened with Memphis?” asked Frank Chiles. “That used to be Northwest’s hub.”
“The issue is hubs,” Hainsey said. “They have a hub in Detroit, in Minneapolis/St Paul, in Cincinnati, in Atlanta…they just have too many hubs. My thoughts are that we’ll see further reductions in Memphis. They’re cutting down number of airplanes, mostly out of the regional fleet, and Memphis is a regional hub. They are trying to put those planes back at their other hubs.
“I also can’t emphasize enough that the Delta guys really looked at our numbers,” Hainsey said. “The did a detailed analysis on our little market before they made this decision. They looked at the last month’s traffic and said no one went to Amsterdam from GTR through Memphis. We had X number that went through Atlanta. They are trying to read our industry’s demands, and the majority of our businesses are concerned with travel to the East Coast and Europe. Delta is our main horse, but we’re still in discussion with other airlines. We’re not anywhere near serious discussions, but we’re continuing to talk about it.”
The cost of fuel and the continued economic problems are hurting air travel, Hainsey said.
“The airlines are all cutting,” he said. “Delta announced yesterday that they’re cutting 9% out of their international travel, and that’s significant.”
Overall, business at the airport remains strong.
“In April our numbers were only up .2% over the same time last year, but we are still up almost 9% for the year,” Hainsey said.
“April was a tough month for the airline because there were a lot of maintenance cancellations. We had over 300 passengers who had to be rebooked. Even so, it was the most passengers we’ve had on flights here since April of 2003, and back then we still had two airlines here.
“We’re running really high this month so far,” Hainsey said. “Our load factor in May is 78%, and we don’t normally get much above 70% at all.”0