Friday, February 01, 2013

Memphis area air service task force hires consultant

A Washington consultant that helped Pittsburgh, Portland and others woo airlines has been selected to craft a community-supported push for better service in Memphis.

The Mid-South Air Service Task Force, formed by area mayors and business executives last fall, chose aviation economics consultant Campbell-Hill Aviation Group LLC for an $85,000 study.

The firm was one of two that responded to a request for proposals in January. Campbell-Hill won out over InterVistas, a consultancy that crafted the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority's current $1 million incentive program.

Campbell-Hill co-founder Brian Campbell advised Memphis Mayor A C Wharton on aviation issues last summer at the suggestion of FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith.

Campbell briefed Wharton and regional mayors in July about the dire situation facing Memphis air travelers after years of declining service at Memphis International Airport. The airport has suffered a 51 percent reduction in capacity and a 60 percent reduction in daily flights since a peak of 285 daily departures in 2000.

At the task force's introduction, Campbell stood before assembled news media outside City Hall and recited the difficulties of a small market like Memphis supporting a hub and the conventional industry wisdom, unpopular among many Memphians, that low fares and well-connected hub service rarely go hand in hand.

Wharton convened the mayors at a time when public anger was boiling over about Memphis hub operator Delta Air Line's repeated cuts of flights serving the city, while the city remained one of the highest-fare airports in the country.

The mayors have since coalesced into a task force and been joined by leading business people. The request for proposals is part of their effort to organize and put forward a comprehensive, regionwide strategy for gaining and supporting more flights and lower fares.

The consultant will recommend feasible courses of action that the Memphis region can take "to close the gap between existing air service and the demands of local public and private sector customers at fares that more closely align to national averages."

Campbell-Hill will engage the business community through regional chambers of commerce and survey businesses about unmet air service needs and the businesses' willingness to help provide incentives to airlines bringing in new service. It will support the task force in setting realistic expectations for air service in the current environment and offering a variety of strategies that can be pursued.

The firm has done similar business surveys for U.S. airports including Austin, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Baltimore-Washington International and Kansas City. Other current clients are Portland, Reno, Oakland, San Diego, Milwaukee, and recent clients include Atlanta, Richmond and Spokane.

The firm says it helped secure key service at Pittsburgh, San Diego, Austin, Portland and Milwaukee.

A public-private partnership came together in Pittsburgh to subsidize a Pittsburgh-Paris nonstop, which has was reduced to seasonal after the subsidies ended. Campbell-Hill also worked with a regional group to win new international services in Portland, including a nonstop to Japan.

Campbell-Hill was chosen by the task force's executive steering committee.

It consists of Wharton, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and mayors Chip Johnson of Hernando, Larry Bryant of Forrest City and Chuck Cariker of Tunica, along with private sector's Gary Shorb, Methodist; Paul Karre, International Paper; Clint Hermes, St. Jude; Robert Gordon, Baptist; and Chris Richards, FedEx.

Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County president Reid Dulberger, Greater Memphis Chamber president John Moore and airport president Larry Cox also serve on the task force. EDGE provided seed money for the feasibility study and serves as the group's fiscal agent.

InterVistas created an air service incentive program that has yet to bear fruit for the airport authority. Under Federal Aviation Administration rules, airport-funded incentives have to be carefully targeted so that they are open to all carriers.


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