Memphis airport ranks 8th for on-time arrivals

October 8, 2009

By Wayne Risher

A Brookings Institution report ranks Memphis eighth nationally in on-time arrival of commercial airline flights.

The report by the organization's Metropolitan Policy Program provides more validation of Memphis International Airport's claim of being America's hassle-free, low-cost connecting hub.

It says 83 percent of flights arrived on time at Memphis, compared to 66.3 percent at airports in the New York metro area, where the worst delays were reported.

Delta Air Lines hubs in Memphis and Detroit, which is No. 4 on the list, are the only metro areas in the eastern two-thirds of the country that appear in the top 10. The two former Northwest Airlines hubs join Salt Lake City, another Delta hub, and Phoenix, a U.S. Airways and Southwest hub, as the only domestic hubs in the top 10.

"We don't have congestion. In fact, we have considerable room and opportunity for additional expansion," said Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority chairman Arnold Perl.

"We're very fortunate that because of the needs of FedEx, we've been improving and expanding our airfield for the past 20 years," said authority president Larry Cox. "The prediction is we have plenty of capacity for the next 20 years."

The report cites worsening delays and congestion as wake-up calls for public officials to consider air passenger volumes in decisions on high-speed rail investments and to consider allowing congested airports to impose fees encouraging planes to land at non-peak hours.

"Our report clearly demonstrates that the largest metro areas are the primary source of passenger delays," said Adie Tomer, a research analyst with Brookings. "Federal aviation policy needs to do more to provide the right tools to these regions so that the system as a whole can function efficiently."

The report said about 15 percent of Memphis passengers originate in Atlanta, which was ranked the nation's sixth-worst airport for on-time arrivals. The report looked at 12 months of data ending in March 2009.

"The delays we have tend to come out of the airports that have a lot of delays -- Atlanta, the Northeast, Chicago," Cox said.

The report said the average delay for late-arriving flights in Memphis was 51.1 minutes.

"The Memphis International Airport brand is that we are the hassle-free connecting hub, with some of the shortest connecting times in the nation, both for domestic and international flights," Perl said.

Memphis also is the only connecting hub that doesn't have a passenger facility charge, Perl said.

Perl said the Federal Aviation Administration's planned upgrade of the air traffic control system from a radar-based approach to a satellite-based system is the key to solving congestion issues highlighted by Brookings. The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, "is a game-changer for air traffic," Perl said.

Brookings said its research is the first analysis of air travel among metro areas, rather than individual airports.

"In an increasingly global economy, the ability to connect to major metropolitan hubs and international destinations is critical for our long-term economic health and competitiveness," said report co-author Robert Puentes, a senior fellow in Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program.

-- Wayne Risher: 529-2874

Origins of passengers arriving at Memphis International Airport

1. Atlanta, 798,840
2. Minneapolis, 533,564
3. Detroit, 432,006
4. Charlotte, 376,454
5. Chicago, 358,389
6. New York, 355,733
7. Dallas, 340,242
8. Orlando, 305,149
9. Houston, 213,382
10. Los Angeles, 212,808