Aviation consultants may be brought in to evaluate impact of Miami-Dade's airports, need for new routes
By Paola Iuspa
The Miami-Dade Aviation Department wants to hire consulting firms to determine the economic value of the county's four airports and weigh demand for additional routes.
An economic impact study individually and collectively of the Miami International, Tamiami, Opa-locka and Homestead General airports is "long overdue," said Miguel Southwell, the department's assistant director for business development.
That report, estimated to cost about $84,000, could help aviation officials determine how many jobs could be lost if a major carrier like American Airline decides to halve its operations. The study, which could be ready in about six months, would also help predict how a disaster or another terrorist attack would affect the community, Mr. Southwell said.
Quantifying the airports' contributions to the county's economy will help gain support for possible new projects within the Miami International Airport's $4.8 billion expansion and prevent other groups from putting their interests before those of the airports. Developers sometimes try to alter air routes to get rid of airplane noise to make their properties more attractive, Mr. Southwell said.
Martin Associates of Pennsylvania, one of the country's most experienced firms in impact studies of airports and seaports, is the aviation department preferred choice for this task. Its report would show the impact of Miami International's expansion on the local economy, said Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson.
Based on past reports, the county's aviation system is thought to pour about $13 billion into South Florida in salaries, contracted services, fuel and other product purchases, ground transportation and taxes, Mr. Johnson said.
While that is an unofficial number, he said a 1998 study put impact at $10 billion.
Mr. Southwell said the most common formula to determine such impact consists of multiplying the aviation department's direct spending by three. For example, he said, if direct spending is $2,000 the impact will be $6,000.
For the route feasibility study for Miami International, SH&E Inc., an aviation consultant with offices in Boston, New York, Washington and London, will analyze the benefits of 26 potential international routes aimed at increasing passengers and cargo at the airport.
The $620,547 route analysis will determine demand for new routes to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Adding destinations has been a priority for Aviation Director Angela Gittens, who joined the department more than a year ago.
County commissioners plan today (10/24) to discuss authorizing contracts for the two consulting firms.
Once the consultant determines demand for new routes, aviation officials would need to woo airlines that serve those destinations. Any carrier that begins using Miami International could add at least $2 million to the local economy, Mr. Southwell said.
New nonstop flights will also help stabilize an economic engine extremely sensitive to flops in the world economy, especially in Latin America, one of the airport's busiest destinations.
In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, air passenger traffic declined 11.8% to 9.8 million persons from 2001 and international cargo dropped 7.20% to about 872,700 tons, according to aviation department statistics.
The decline was caused, in part, by fewer passengers to and from economically depressed countries in South America and by cuts in international flights by airlines trying to trim costs during the recession. The proposed three-year agreement between the county and SH&E also calls for conducting six low-fare domestic air service studies. While domestic passenger volume plummeted 10.5% in fiscal 2002, cargo jumped 3.2%, airport statistics show.
The reports will forecast traffic and revenues, carrier market-shares, aircraft operating costs, load factors, performance and profit margins. SH&E will also prepare targeted airline presentation materials, attend meetings and update the information in the reports for two years.
Mr. Johnson said the study would be done in phases through three years.
"It will help understand the potential of Miami International Airport," he said. "It will be focused in a more professional way on what we have to offer" to new air carriers and existing ones eager to add routes.