Airport slows chase to add nonstop flights to 26 countries
Miami International Airport officials have decided to slow plans to add nonstop cargo and passenger flights to countries ranging from Ireland and Israel to Hong Kong and Nigeria.
Miguel Southwell, the airport's assistant director responsible for business development, said plans to create new routes to 26 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America are not being yanked from the priority list but may be re-ranked pending a consultant's report that has yet to be started.
Before the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, airport officials were ready to fast-track selection of a consulting firm to analyze Miami's passenger demand for each of 26 proposed destinations including Belgium, Tokyo, South Korea, South Africa, Kenya and Medellin, Colombia.
The plan was to have a selection committee recommend a firm by the end of 2001 and name a finalist by early this year. The firm would have produced a report indicating which of those destinations could justify flights and airport officials would have tried to entice carriers to serve Miami.
But all that changed after the attacks, which decreased travel and left airlines craving business.
Mr. Southwell said many carriers, fighting for survival, aren't in the mood to expand. He said airlines might need nine to 12 months to recoup and again see growth.
Miami International officials are now about to open the consulting firms' bids, requested in October, and want the selection committee to pick one by the end of March, Mr. Southwell said. A report from the chosen consultant would be expected by summer.
"The analysis has to be done to determine if passenger traffic exists to sustain new flights," he said. "Then we will do a presentation to airline carriers that could provide the service."
In the meantime, he said, he is traveling this week to Nigeria to meet with representatives of aviation authorities and airline carriers to promote the airport.
"You don't want to wait until you are ready to expand," Mr. Southwell said, "to start building relationships.
While cargo and passenger volume may be sufficient for new airlines to begin servicing Miami, they also need to "feel comfortable" with how it does business and deals with carriers, he said.
Miami International is the No.1 international gateway in the nation, flying 224,000 seats a week and "well ahead of the traditional frontrunners JFK in New York and Los Angeles International Airport," airport director Angela Gittens said during last week's state of the airport address.
But the average annual growth worldwide for scheduled flight international passengers is 3.5%, down from a forecast 4.7% that was decreased after Sept. 11, according to the International Air Transport Association in London.
The number of international passengers is projected to stabilize in 2002 and recover in 2003.
"On this projection," an association report said, "the annual number of passengers on international scheduled services is estimated to reach 637 million by 2005."