"Taste of Memphis-style logistics sets the table for aerotropolis conference"

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Airport managers, planners and dreamers took the pulse of America's Aerotropolis on Monday and fantasized about airport cities in their own backyards.

They were the first wave of more than 600 airport professionals arriving in Memphis for the Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition today and Wednesday. It's nonstop shop talk about airport-based economic development and the best ways to connect with surrounding communities.

Early arrivals boarded tour buses and headed to Memphis' airport city to see FedEx-fueled, fast-cycle, Memphis-style logistics.

They toured state-of-the-art distribution warehouses that easily offer next-day or even same-day deliveries of medical items (Medtronic), iPhones (AT&T), housewares (Williams Sonoma) and repaired laptops (Flextronic).

The conference's appeal is far-reaching: Both China and Iran sent large delegations, though Iranian delegates had trouble getting visas to enter the country.

The airport helped by sending a photo of Airport Authority president and CEO Larry Cox posing with Iranian delegates at the 2010 Airport Cities conference in Beijing.

About 225 visitors took bus tours of Memphis International Airport, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad's Memphis intermodal gateway and logistics centers.

"We're trying to find our niche," explained Simon Kloppenburg, development adviser with Curacao Airport Holdings N.V., who is attending with his board chairman, Rudy Sprock.

The Caribbean island's airport dreams include hosting commercial space flights, perfecting an air-conditioning system that runs on ocean water and "more than 20 other ideas," said Kloppenburg, who previously attended Airport Cities conferences in Dallas and Athens, Greece.

They've signed a memorandum of understanding with Space Exploration Curacao to provide a base for flights by Xcor Aerospace, which is working on a combination jet-and-rocket-propelled craft.

"We're checking to see if our plan is good and seeing if there might be partners who are interested in our plan," Kloppenburg said.

The conference is an opportunity to "see what's happening in the world in airports," said Maurits Schaafsma, an urban planner for Amsterdam Schiphol.

"I am involved in an airport city concept as an urban planner," said Schaafsma.

His focus is development around the airport, in five business parks, and between the airport and downtown Amsterdam, six kilometers away.

"I want to meet people who are involved in this kind of experience. Memphis is interesting because it's so big in cargo," he said.

At a Medtronic facility on Swinnea, Rob Varner, senior director of Americas distribution, said Medtronic has the biggest of three American distribution centers in Memphis because of great air cargo service.

The center ships 7,000 items a day, including artificial knees, insulin pumps and surgery kits. FedEx is a boon to rental of surgery kits, which can be received from a user at 4 a.m. and shipped out 20 hours later to another user, because of early deliveries and late shipping cutoffs.

"The capacity of FedEx and the capacity of commercial cargo in Memphis allow us to do what we do," Varner said. "We need a provider who can handle 7,000 packages a day, and that's what FedEx gives us."

Kloppenburg said the operation, while impressive, wouldn't fly in Curacao.

But the tour ginned up another idea: A medical clinic where customers combine routine surgeries with a week in paradise.

-- Wayne Risher: 529-2874

Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition

Highlight: On tap today is a discussion with FedEx chairman, president and CEO Frederick W. Smith and Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson. Dr. John Kasarda, a University of North Carolina professor who popularized the aerotropolis concept, will moderate.

Time: The conference opens at 9 a.m. at The Peabody.



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