MEM ATADS data, 1991-2014:
Scrollable aerial view at bing.com. (Click to open in a new window).
Airport Narrative (Overview & History)
Memphis International Airport dates back to 1927, when an airport commission selected farmland seven miles south of the downtown area for a new airport. A sod runway was dedicated in 1929. A ‘modern’ terminal building was opened in 1938. As was the case with most U.S. airports, the entire facility was taken over by the U.S. Army for war purposes, but reverted to civilian use in 1947.
A new terminal opened in 1963, with 22 gates to accommodate the new commercial jets and the booming airline industry. Passenger growth was robust, and included the rise (and fall) of Republic Airlines, which eventually absorbed into Northwest.
Arguably the largest impact on Memphis was the founding of Federal Express (renamed to FedEx in 2000). Memphis remains the largest cargo airport in the U.S., serving as the main hub for FedEx. Air Cargo is largely a night-time industry. Flights tend to be heavily concentrated in ‘banks’ of arrivals, and other ‘banks’ of departures. An inspection of online flight-tracking websites shows that FedEx departs a huge wave of cargo planes from 3AM to 6AM. These return in an arrival rush from 8AM to 12PM, then a second departure push happens from 3PM to 5PM. The final arrival push occurs between 10:30PM and 2AM.
The airport sits on 3,900 acres and has 67 total based aircraft (ten single-engine, seven multi-prop, forty jets, one helicopter, and nine military aircraft). FAA staffs a 24/7 control tower, and averages 712 operations per day. As shown in the Table below, traffic peaked in 2003, but has since declined by 33%. At this time, the future for intensive air cargo appears murky.
The FAA controllers work three parallel north-south runways, with one east-west runway on the north end of the airport. This configuration has created a long history of conflicts, typically when one aircraft aborts an approach then has to dodge the crossing departure or arrival. One of the most significant FAA Whistleblower cases happened at Memphis, from 2006 until 2009. Peter Nesbitt spoke up about the unsafe crossing runway operations. KMEM FAA management had insisted the operations were all approved by higher officials (which was later proven false). Mr. Nesbitt endured the hostile retaliatory treatment typically dealt to ATC Whistleblowers. He wrote some outstanding reports, to help OSC and others (including Congress and the President) see the dangerous situation that FAA was condoning at Memphis. Mr. Nesbitt was eventually proven correct in his concerns, and a settlement was forced, enabling him to relocate back to his previous work station, at Austin, TX. Unfortunately, as is common, he still endured substantial workplace discomfort, so he retired in the fall of 2012.