Growth in cargo traffic helps ease sting of fewer passengers at Miami International Airport
By Frank Norton
While fewer passengers are expected through Miami International Airport this year, higher cargo traffic should buoy overall usage, airport officials said.
The airport reported a 5.6% decline in passenger traffic in March from a year ago. International traffic fell 7.8%, the biggest decline. A total of 2.6 million passengers traveled through the airport in March - compared to 2.8 million last year.
"We're doing better in domestic than international travel due to the war and the weakness in Latin American markets," said Angela Gittens, Miami-Dade County aviation director.
While passenger traffic was ahead of projections through January, it dipped slightly in February on war anticipation and then dropped sharply in March.
Domestic and international travel through Miami International should remain down in April, Ms. Gittens said, because of lingering uncertainty about air travel.
Cargo volumes, on the other hand, increased 2.7 percent in March to 145,983 tons - the sixth straight monthly increase, the airport said.
"Right now, it's more imports than exports driving that cargo traffic," said Ms. Gittens.
She said higher cargo import levels in the past six months are a result of weakness in South American currencies against the dollar and robust South American produce export levels.
Chris Mangos, head of marketing at the airport, said, "Perishable products, being food items, have demonstrated resilience to global economics and to the airline industry. Economics aside, they continue to increase.
"We hit a plateau in March for the South American perishables season, which has been driving a lot of the cargo increases - so things should flatten out in June," he said.
Still, cargo performance should remain up this year on produce from South America, he said.
Miami International handled 7 million cases of Peruvian asparagus in the second half of last year and is expected to handle 9 million in the second half of this year, he said. And in late August, Chilean grapes are expected to begin arriving by air for the first time, further boosting produce cargo through the second half at Miami International.
Ms. Gittens said increased cargo traffic by LanChile and UPS also helped drive higher overall volumes.
"What is happening is that the development of new facilities over the past five years has solidified Miami International's status as the international gateway for cargo," she said.
In the past two years, LanChile placed its hemispheric cargo headquarters in Miami and opened a 400,000-square-foot air cargo facility at Miami International - the largest on site.
UPS remains the airport's largest cargo carrier, moving 206,422 tons in 2002.