Competitors take bite out of Miami International traffic
By Shannon Pettypiece
Air traffic at Miami International Airport this year is down from a year ago while business booms at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and other airports compete for Miami's Latin American passengers.
The number of scheduled flights arriving in and departing from Miami fell in January, March and April from the same months last year, according to statistics from OAG Worldwide, which compiles data about non-stop passenger flights.
There was a 473-flight increase in February, part of which can be attributed to an extra day because of the leap year, OAG said.
Miami had a 212-flight drop in January. March saw the biggest decline. Miami had 440 fewer flights last month than in March 2003 - a 1.7% drop. The airport is expected to have another losing month this month with 348 fewer scheduled flights than in April 2003.
The Fort Lauderdale airport, which focuses on domestic and low-fare flights, has enjoyed three straight months of increases, according to OAG. It had 1,413 more scheduled flights in January from the previous year, 1,387 more in February and 1,278 more in March.
Fort Lauderdale is expected to have 1,327 more flights this month than in April 2003.
But while Fort Lauderdale is growing as Miami is falling, it still has fewer flights and passengers than Miami. Miami International has almost 3,000 more flights a month than Fort Lauderdale, and Miami's flights have an average 30 more seats than Fort Lauderdale flights.
Last year, Fort Lauderdale had 17 million passengers and Miami 29 million.
Fort Lauderdale International's focus is on domestic flights while 10% of Miami International flights originate or land outside the US, said Fort Lauderdale International spokesman Jim Reynolds. He said about 2% of Miami's international flights arrive in or depart from Latin America.
Mr. Reynolds also said most passengers at Fort Lauderdale International are Broward County residents and visitors to the area - not travelers coming from or arriving in Miami-Dade County.
Miami International continues to dominate the Latin American market. The airport has 565 weekly departures to 34 Latin American destinations and services almost half of all travelers between Latin America and the US, said Miami International spokesman Marc Henderson.
Other southern US airports are trying to lure Miami's Latin American business. Connecting international flights make up a significant portion of the airport's traffic and could move elsewhere.
Among airports trying to become Latin American gateways are Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Houston Airport System and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Dallas-Forth Worth officials say they are trying to provide an alternative to Miami for international connections. Marketing Vice President Joe Lopano said his airport has aggressively sought some of that business in the past five years.
"Miami's service hasn't decreased," he said. "We haven't stolen anything from them. We have just added complementary service.
"We compete with all airports around the country," Mr. Lopano said. "Miami is the predominant Latin American gateway, and I think that will remain a factor for many years to come. But there are other emerging gateways throughout the United States."
Dallas-Fort Worth has 64 weekly departures to nine Latin American destinations, he said. In comparison, Miami has eight times as many flights to 34 cities.
Dallas-Fort Worth is building a new 2 million-square-foot international terminal for American Airlines flights, expected to boost Dallas-Fort Worth's Latin American business.
The Houston Airport System, which includes George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Houston International Airport, had 1.6 million Latin American travelers last year, up 1.3% from the previous year.
Of 12 million air passengers who travel between the US and Latin America each year, 6.2 million go through Miami, airport officials say.
Atlanta's major carrier, Delta Airlines, has 69 weekly flights between Atlanta and Latin America. Officials at Atlanta International Airport said they did not have time last week to comment on Atlanta's share of the Latin American market or plans for expansion.
Miami International officials say its flights account for 56.3% of the South American market. They say Atlanta and Houston each have 6% and Dallas-Fort Worth 5.5%. Miami officials say they service 41% of the Central American market with Houston serving 15.6%, Atlanta 5.5% and Dallas-Fort Worth 5.7%.
Robert Booth, president of aviation-consulting firm AVGroup, said that while Miami has competitors, the airport will never lose its status as the US gateway to Latin America.
"Atlanta has tried very hard, and they have had some success, but I don't see us losing it. There are so many reasons people want to stop over in South Florida," Mr. Booth said. "I see growth coming at other airports, but I don't see people leaving Miami."
Miami International was 20th among the world's airports for passenger traffic last year with 29 million passengers, according to Airport Council International. The busiest airport last year was Atlanta International with 79 million passengers.
Dallas-Fort Worth International had 53 million passengers last year, and Houston had 34 million.