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Memphians: Airport's noisy delivery OK

FedEx employees begin to unload a plane at the FedEx hub in Memphis, Tenn.

TEXT OF STORY

BILL RADKE: Now to our series on how the recession and recovery
are being felt in the heartland. Lots of Americans live in the flight path of an airport --
but then, most of those planes take off and land during the day.

Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson found an airport in Tennessee, where the real action happens at night
and residents don't seem to mind.


JEREMY HOBSON: That might sound like an airport runway, but it's actually a leafy residential neighborhood in Memphis called Cooper-Young. And it's right in the flight path of Memphis International -- home of FedEx.

STEVE KRAYER: It's been going on so long, you just don't even think anything about it. It's like living next to a railroad track I guess.

I caught up with Steve Krayer taking the garbage out at his Cooper-Young home. That's just a few miles north of the airport.

KRAYER: I'd hate to think what Memphis would be like if FedEx wasn't here.

That's easy for Krayer to say. He's one of the 32,000 Memphians who work for the city's top employer/noisemaker -- FedEx. His neighbor, Kip Gordon, isn't.

HOBSON: Can you sleep through it?

KIP GORDON: Oh yeah. Yeah. And at this point, honestly, I've been here so long with it that if it stopped, I might have problems sleeping.

In fact, University of Memphis Sociologist Phyllis Betts told me it's as if FedEx CEO Fred Smith can do no wrong here.

PHYLLIS BETTS: Fred Smith is like the biggest thing next to Elvis.

Well, if that's the case, then I'm going to Graceland -- the main FedEx sorting facility at Memphis International. The action starts every night around 11 p.m.

FedEx VP John Dunavant has invited me up to the company's control tower.

JOHN DUNAVANT: Total aircraft inbound tonight will about 144. I think it's right about 1.6 million packages is what we'll sort tonight.

All those planes -- coming in from as far away as Hong Kong -- land within a couple of hours, making this the world's busiest cargo airport. The planes are unloaded and all the packages are swiftly sorted through a matrix of conveyor belts.

After that, they're loaded onto different planes. And around 2 a.m. it's takeoff time. If one of the flights can't go to it's original destination -- no problem. FedEx will fly the packages part way and truck them the rest. Dunavant says packages don't complain about re-routes like people do.

HOBSON: You've never had a package say "I'm never flying FedEx again?"

DUNAVANT: No not that we know of.

The airport authority says it gets about 12 complaints a year about the noise. Though a spokesman joked, most airports get at least 12 noise complaints a day.

In Memphis, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.


RADKE: Jeremy asked everyone he met in Tennessee whether they're seeing signs of the recovery. Watch that slideshow and tell us your experiences.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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