October 21, 2014

Miami-Dade International Airport

Terminal Illness?

David Villano | 3/1/2006
Times are tough at Miami International Airport: Traffic is declining, costs are sky-high, customer service complaints are up, construction overruns are common and the airport has gained a reputation as one of the least passenger-friendly in the country.

Miami International Airport

Frustrated business leaders, citing a history of mismanagement and corruption, recommend creating an independent oversight authority to shield construction and service contracts from politics. County commissioners have roundly refused.

"What we really need to do is change the culture here. That's our focus," says aviation director José Abreu, sidestepping the independent authority debate. "We now have the checks and balances that we lacked before."

Abreu, who has occupied one of the county's hottest seats for less than a year, is banking on two state-of-the-art terminals to change the airport's fortunes. Both are over budget and behind schedule but once completed (in September and in 2009), the $2.3-billion expansion will allow the airport to court the low-cost carriers that are fueling airline growth. "We'll be able to offer efficiencies that our competitors may not be able to match," says Abreu.

It's an expensive gamble. Landing fees at MIA, driven up by heavy debt service, are already among the nation's priciest, more than four times higher than those at fast-growing Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. And some industry insiders say MIA's fees may go higher still if it struggles to find airlines to fill its new terminals, as some predict.

But with Fort Lauderdale's airport virtually maxed out, MIA's expansion plans may pay off. "We're in a position to double our capacity. Our airfield can handle it, and our terminals will be able to handle it," says Abreu. "I don't think any other airport in the country is able to say that."

Tags: Miami-Dade

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