Miami International Airport faring OK as airlines cut flights, increase charges
By Risa Polansky
As airlines cut flights and impose new charges to make up for rising fuel costs, Miami International Airport's international business is acting as a buffer to pain felt by other airports nationwide.
The local airport is bracing for a loss: for the year, departing flights are to be down overall about 1%, said Chris Mangos, director of Miami-Dade Aviation's marketing division.
Domestic flights are driving the decrease — they're expected to be down 4% by year's end. But international flights are set to go up 3%.
The total number of seats offered is to increase 1% by the end of the year, buoyed by a 4% increase in international seats, he said.
International travel makes up 54% of Miami International's business, the highest ratio in the US, with domestic accounting for only 46%.
"Sometimes we look to increase domestic service," Mr. Mangos said. "But here's a situation where our international prominence is helping us through a difficult time."
Miami International is expected during the last quarter of the year to lose 70 flights a week, or 1,890 weekly departing seats. But Los Angeles International Airport is to be down 950 flights a week — 81,800 weekly seats.
"It's pretty drastic when you see what's happening at other major US gateways," Mr. Mangos said.
Like other airports, Miami International is to lose certain services. United announced in June it would be shutting down its low-fare carrier, Ted.
But the airline plans to add to its Miami service, "absolutely" making up for the loss, he said.
"We are losing the Ted brand, but United through its announcement to no longer serve Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach is actually beefing up seats in the Miami market this November, and the quality of product."
Later this year, United is to offer five daily flights on two large jets with two classes of service.
Though American Airlines — Miami International's largest carrier — is also planning major national and international flight cuts, "American is beefing up service across its system" to make up for it, Mr. Mangos said.
It's offering flights in two new markets, Antigua and Granada in the Caribbean.
Weekend service to Antigua is to begin in September, and daily non-stop service to Antigua and Granada is to start Nov. 2, said Martha Pantín, the airline's director of corporate communications.
"Those are the two additions that we have announced for Miami for the fall," she said in an e-mail. "Year over year — when you consider AA and American Eagle our regional carrier as one, we will have one more flight than we did last year — while the airline as a whole is reducing capacity 11% to 12%."
Brazilian airline TAM is to add Miami flights as well as upgrade its aircraft, Mr. Mangos said.
LAN Airlines and affiliate LAN Peru are also set to offer more flights.
Beginning Aug. 15, Surinam Airways is to offer new service from Paramaribo, its capital.
In September, Venezuela's Aeropostal is to offer daily service to Valencia, Venezuela.
A month later, Rutas Aéreas de Venezuela is to begin offering new service from Caracas and Maracaibo, Venezuela.
And in November, Lufthansa is to introduce daily service from Dusseldorf, Germany.
"We're doing well," Mr. Mangos said, though "nothing stops airlines to reevaluate their schedules further — we could be subject to more cuts."
Israeli airline El Al has cut its direct Miami service but "has entered in to a very good agreement with American Airlines," he said, allowing Miami International to connect passengers to an El Al flight indirectly.
"I think we'll address the El Al service sometime in the future when times are a little bit better," Mr. Mangos added.
Another ongoing project: attracting South African Airways.
The airline offered direct service from here to Johannesburg in the 1990s, and Miami officials have been trying to lure it back.
Jason Krause, the airline's head of business development, said in an e-mail that, "while SAA is evaluating its current route network to determine sustainably profitable opportunities, there is no intention at this stage to operate to Miami from South Africa."
Regardless, "we still are encouraged," Mr. Mangos said. "These are not things that can be done overnight. It is not atypical for a new route to take three to seven years to develop."
Attracting new services is not the only way the airport can better business.
"Our revenues are driven not only by the charges that airlines pay for operating here, from landing fees to gate fees to their fixed fees for their terminal," he said.
Commercial revenue from car rental and airport shops also plays a role.
It's too soon to tell how the expected loss in flights could impact the airport's bottom line, Mr. Mangos said.
"We're just going to have to wait and see what the dollar signs are attached to this particular malaise," he said. But "we're faring much better than others are."