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Orlando Airport Is Growing Faster Than Miami’s

Change reflects rapid growth in Orlando region and Miami’s high costs


February 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

MIAMI–Orlando International Airport overtook Miami International Airport (MIA) last year in passenger volume and the change is attributed to the rapid growth in the Orlando region as well as Miami’s high costs. Other factors cited are Orlando’s strong growth in tourism and conventions, and Miami’s inability to attract low-cost airlines.

Last year, Orlando served 31.1 million passengers, compared with MIA’s 30.1 million (compared with a previous MIA high of 35 million passengers). At the same time, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLH), now the nation’s fastest-growing airport, handled 20.8 million passengers.

Miami is losing ground, in part, because its high costs are driving fast-growing discount airlines to other airports. Cost overruns now exceeding $256 million are also recorded in a massive $4.8 billion capital improvement program, described as one of the nation’s largest public works projects. High costs are expected to drive landing and user fees even higher than they already are.

"We must reduce cost," said Carlos Bonzon, Miami-Dade’s interim aviation director. "I assure you we will reduce our costs."

Many frequent travelers who have passed through MIA for years have come to dread the experience. It is so gigantic that changes of flights there can seem like exhausting journeys taking half an hour or more and complaints about bottlenecks in immigration and customs are legend, with some passengers missing connections, especially during peak travel periods.

"At peak periods, our passengers are experiencing long wait times," conceded Bonzon. "To remain competitive as an international hub, we have to do everything we can to keep the ‘hassle factor’ down to a minimum. If passengers continue to experience delays awaiting immigration inspection, we will lose business to other international hubs."

Some air travel not fun

The news that Orlando is growing faster in passenger volume than MIA doesn’t surprise some seasoned travelers. The rapid growth in volume at FLH in recent years is directly attributed to the growth of discount airlines there, as well as the convenience of the smaller airport. For example, the number of aircraft connecting San Juan with Miami is about the same as in previous years but the more comfortable Airbuses have been replaced with smaller, cramped Boeing 757s, which are disliked by both passengers and crew. Meanwhile the number of flights connecting San Juan with FLH has grown to more than half a dozen daily.

While passenger volume is growing more slowly than expected, MIA’s cargo traffic registered an 11% increase in 2004. It handles 77% of all air export trade between the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean, and 82% of all imports from the same region.

"Despite the difficult situation of the airline industry’s legacy carriers, air traffic is actually on the rise," said Bonzon. "At MIA this is particularly true of cargo, where we continue to lead the nation in international freight."

A significant development related to cargo carriers is the growth of the state-of-the-art FedEx and IPS cargo hubs in MIA, which Bonzon described as "the two most profitable airlines operating in the U.S. today. The value of MIA as a strategic asset for air cargo is evidenced by both FedEx and UPS having made MIA their Latin American hub."

MIA still isn’t back to pre-9/11 traffic levels but, Bonzon said, "We do expect those figures to increase as airlines at MIA continue to expand their service." MIA is the only U.S. airport with flights to all Latin American capitals and describes itself as "the world’s largest gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean."

Bonzon registered considerable caution in describing the current state of affairs in aviation. "Our legacy carriers are facing enormous difficulties, some are in, or teetering on the edge of bankruptcy," he warned. "The situation is precarious, but airlines are taking drastic measures to remain competitive."

Pointing out that the airlines "are totally focused on cutting costs," Bonzon said "they have extracted major concessions from labor in terms of reduced salaries and increased productivity from pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and even management. They are leaving no stone unturned in looking for additional cost-cutting opportunities, and that includes airport costs–a fact we can no longer ignore."

Indicating that legacy carriers are now offering travelers a viable alternative to low-cost airlines by cutting their highest fares and doing away with most of their restrictions, Bonzon invited passengers to check it out. "American’s simplified fares were great news for MIA, as we can now better compete with Fort Lauderdale," he said. "On your next trip, I encourage you to compare prices. You may be surprised to discover that the lowest fare is out of MIA."

The future success of MIA is vitally important to the greater Miami area. There are more than 37,000 people employed at MIA and it directly or indirectly generates 234,000 jobs in the region with earnings of $7.7 billion in personal income. MIA contributed $18.3 billion in revenue to South Florida businesses and paid $715 million in local and state taxes.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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