- A new airplane de-icing facility at the busiest U.S. cargo airport will help keep deliveries on time for carriers like FedEx during the peak holiday shipping season, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a speech celebrating its completion Tuesday.
- The Consolidated De-Icing Facility at Memphis International Airport (MEM) in Memphis, Tennessee, cost $309 million, airport spokesperson Glen Thomas said in an email. The facility has been in active use by airlines since Nov. 16.
- "This is a facility that will be able to de-ice 12 widebody aircraft at the same time right before they hit the runway, helping to get toys and food and medicine and so many other things where they need to go quickly and efficiently," Buttigieg said.
De-icing at a central pad instead of a gate allows aircraft to depart sooner, reducing the need to de-ice again, according to a Federal Aviation Administration news release. FedEx Express handles the vast majority of cargo at the airport, setting it up to be one of the project's largest beneficiaries.
“The timing could not be better as FedEx enters the busy holiday season," Richard Smith, president and CEO of FedEx Express, said in a statement. "This facility is a shining example of how we can help ensure our team members are safely operating throughout the winter season as we deliver outstanding service for our customers.”
FedEx Express' Memphis hub is the center of its multiple hub-and-spoke system. As of May, it had a sorting capacity of 484,000 documents and packages per hour, the most among its facilities. The company’s activity there helped Memphis International Airport rank as the second-busiest cargo airport based on 2021 tonnage, right behind Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), according to Airports Council International.
In February 2021, winter weather hobbled the Memphis hub's operations, in addition to hubs in Indianapolis and North Texas. The conditions reduced FedEx Express’ operating income by $240 million, FedEx CFO Mike Lenz said on an earnings call the following month.
"The snow amounts in Memphis had not been seen in over 50 years, prior to the founding of FedEx, and when coupled with a record-tying nine consecutive days below freezing, had a significant impact on our operations," Lenz said.
The de-icing facility aims to make life easier for both cargo and passenger airlines grappling with winter weather. Aircraft pilots will be aided by electronic message boards at each bay and at queuing locations, along with an in-pavement lighting guidance system, according to an airport fact sheet on the project.
Eleven of the 12 de-icing bays are able to handle Boeing 777-size aircraft, per the fact sheet. The 12th bay is sized for one Airbus A380/Boeing 747-8 or two Airbus A321/Boeing 737s.
FedEx Express handled around 739 million pounds of cargo at Memphis International Airport in October, down more than 11% from the same period in 2021. This year, demand for FedEx Express' services has slowed, leading the company to reduce flight frequencies and temporarily park aircraft.
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