Air Cargo Conference Puts Memphis At Center of Industry

February 19, 2009

Vol. 124, No. 34

ERIC SMITH | The Daily News

MODELING GIG: The FedEx hub at Memphis International Airport will be toured during an Airports Council International-North America Air Cargo conference to be held March 10-12. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF FEDEX CORP.

The timing couldn’t be better: Just a month after Memphis International Airport was named the world’s busiest cargo airport for the 17th consecutive year, it will roll out the red carpet for the Airports Council International–North America Air Cargo conference, further proving to the world that Memphis is the epicenter of air shipping.

Dubbed “Critical Partnerships for Uncertain Times,” the event is set for March 10-12 at The Peabody hotel and should draw a couple hundred people from airports, cargo companies and related industries throughout North America. Conference partners include Air Cargo World Magazine, Airforwarders Association and Cargo Airline Association.

The conference will center on Memphis International and all the carriers that have kept it as the top facility for air cargo since 1992, when Washington-based ACI-NA – an affiliate of Geneva, Switzerland-based ACI – first began tracking cargo data.

Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority president and CEO Larry Cox said the authority was “delighted” to host the conference, which will showcase Memphis International and its chief cargo tenants to players from across the cargo industry. Moreover, the event also will give attendees a chance to discuss issues critical to the industry right now.

“We’re going through very difficult times for airlines, airports and the economy,” Cox said. “Air cargo was a booming industry up until about a year ago, so it’s taking all the stakeholders and trying to work together to make sure our industry continues to thrive in the future.”

State of the industry
Rich Wilson is development director for Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska and 2009 chair of the ACI-NA Air Cargo committee. He said the conference features a nice cross section of speakers that will address topics from an airport’s and an airline’s perspective.

The conference’s main goal will be to discuss the state of the cargo industry. Relevant questions include: How far down is traffic? How damaging has the recession been? How will the economy impact airports? Will shippers look for other modes of transporting goods, especially when rail and truck are cheaper?

“These are important issues for us to look at,” Wilson said by phone from the St. Louis airport. “On the positive side, we’re looking for ideas from each other, networking on what have you tried at your airport, how have you approached your cargo carriers or passenger carriers with belly cargo, what are you doing to keep them at your airport and to enhance service. Maybe this is an opportunity to reach into the market and look for a different slice for your airport.”

Conference events include tours of the airport, the new Tennessee Air National Guard facility and the UPS and FedEx hubs.

Speakers include Cox, Wilson, ACI-NA president Greg Principato, Tina Sauter (chief operating officer for Memphis-based Mallory Alexander International Logistics) and a host of other executives from companies including FedEx.

‘Point of pride’
More than anything, the conference is a forum to tout the Memphis advantages of location, access and a host of heavyweight shippers such as FedEx. Despite these assets, Cox said he was surprised to see Memphis International retain the title of world’s busiest cargo airport, with Hong Kong narrowing the gap the past few years.

But he’s happy to hold that distinction a little bit longer.

“We sort of snuck in the back door on this one, but we’ve done it for 17 years in a row, so we’ve got bragging rights for at least one more year,” Cox said

Arnold Perl, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority and a partner in the law firm of Ford & Harrison LLP, said being ranked No. 1 again has benefits that will aid marketing efforts and the bottom line for commerce in Memphis.

“Seventeen straight years as world’s busiest cargo airport is a point of pride and an economic benefit for the city,” he said.

As important as this conference is, it won’t compare to the event the airport is hosting in two years. In 2011, Memphis International Airport will host the Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition, giving the city a chance to show off the airport to more than 500 executives from around the globe.

“It’s not the Olympics,” Perl said at the time the city won the right to host the conference, “but in terms of air service, it mirrors the Olympics.”

Next year, Memphis International will host the Southeast Chapter of American Association of Airport Executives. That event will be a broader overview of the airport operation and management, Cox said.