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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on September 17, 2013

¡Bienvenido a Miami!

Dr Emilio González talks to Benet Wilson about his first six months in the hot seat at Miami Dade Aviation Department.

In terms of aviation, Dr Emilio González is very much the new kid on the block having only been appointed director of Miami-Dade Aviation Department in April this year, a role that ensures he is responsible for the success of Miami International Airport (MIA) and four general aviation airports.  

As part of his new job, he is overseeing the completion of one of the largest airport expansion projects in the United States, a $6.5-billion capital improvement programme that has added new terminals, roadways and other infrastructure to MIA and the county’s general aviation airports.

It is a tough first assignment in the airport environment, butit is one that won’t phase the former US Army colonel after acareer spent in foreign affairs and international security that has included stints as director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and director for western hemisphere affairs at theNational Security Council.

Indeed, such high profile appointments led to a US magazine once naming González as ‘One of the most influential Latinosin the country’, and he has no intention of disappearing fromthe limelight at one of the nation’s busiest international airports.

In fact, he notes that enhancing MIA’s capacity through the successful completion of the ongoing expansion programme is vital as the airport now handles close to 40 million passengers and two million tons of cargo annually.

For the record, an all-time high of 39.5 million passengers(+3%) and 2.1 million tons (+4.6%) of cargo passed throughMIA in 2012 – the passenger total being an incredible 1.1 million up on 2011.

Infrastructure development

In addition to raising capacity, González  says the expansionproject is all about enhancing efficiency and safety, reducingdelays, maximising non-aeronautical revenues andmodernising MIA. 

It includes an expanded terminal and airfield with four runways and several new taxiways, more parking, a central collection plaza and additional lanes at upper/lower terminal drives.

As a result, MIA’s terminal has expanded from 3.5 million to7.4 million square feet and the airport now has 101 international and 27 domestic gates, 555 check-in desks and 120 self-service kiosks. 

Its South Terminal, with 28 gates and an adjoining cruise ship bus depot, began operations in 2007. 

It covers a total area of 1.7-million-square-feet and featuresa 15-gate Concourse J and a renovated 13-gate Concourse H,which serves 20 domestic and international carriers.

The $3 billion upgrade of the North Terminal, home tohub carrier American Airlines and its oneworld partners, isnearly complete. 

The new-look facility now boasts a 900ft long main ticket counter, 47 international gates, 1.4 miles of moving walkways, new three-level international arrivals facility with a 72-lane federal inspection area that can handle up to 2,000 passengers an hour. 

It also has a new second-level baggage claim area and a new international greeter’s lobby.  

Parsons acted as the managing general contractor for theNorth Terminal project, and claims that its success is a testamentto the power of excellent construction planning, collaborationand creativity.  

“MDAD and the Parsons-Odebrecht Joint Venture worked handin glove with a common purpose, building modern efficient gatesfor this key US–Latin America hub,” says Ginger Evans, senior vice president and aviation director of Parsons.

“Both the airline and passengers were viewed as clients, and the ‘client service’ goal came through in every aspect of the project.”

The only remaining work is the opening of Gates D-26, D-27and D-28, scheduled to open by September 2013, and the baggage handling system’s international-to-domestic transfer, scheduledfor completion by early 2014.

Appeal of Miami

González claims that it was the complexity of the job that attracted him to Miami International Airport. 

“I knew it would be an interesting and intriguing place tojump in as there are so many moving parts at this airport,”admits González. 

He said that his skill-set – managing large and complex operations with moving parts that may not go together but arestill part of the whole – made him ideal for the Miami job. 

“The opportunity to be the head of an operation this largeand complex was just too good to pass up. There are very fewjobs like this,” says González, who reveals that he sees “surprises” every day.

“We have 115,000 passengers a day coming through MIA and another 35,000 that work here every day,” he says. “When you add this up, it’s a city that has a lot of the same problems that you have running an actual city, including maintenance, infrastructure and construction issues.”

MIA has been working on its capital improvement programme, which has had its challenges, since 2000. 

“You walk through here and see the incredible work that’sbeen done. We now have a world-class airport,” says González.“I travel a lot, and I now have a discerning eye when I seeother airports, and Miami has nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”

Concessions

Next on the agenda are plans to redevelop the Central Terminalto make it similar in design and layout to the new North andSouth terminals.

“Some of the highlights include a diversity of concessions, a robust arts programme and a nice aesthetic,” enthuses González.

The transformation of the retail and F&B facilities formed amajor part of the upgrade of in the North and South terminals,notes González. 

“The upgrade was needed because we wanted to give  passengers the largest variety of eating and shopping,” he says. “Passengers love it. They now see that Miami is a world-class airport that offers world class brands that are immediately recognisable.”

The airport currently has 206 retail and F&B concessions – approximately 30% of which are located pre-security and the remainder post security.  

González says that between July 2012 and March 2013, the airport added 9,806 square feet of concessions to meetpassenger demand. 

Concession brands include Bacardi Mojito/Lorena Garcia Cocina, Bijoux Terner, the Miami Heat Store, men’s retailer Thomas Pink,and Techshowcase.

Traffic

González enthusiastically describes MIA as a big airport, major gateway to South America and the Caribbean, and an importanthub for American Airlines.  

“All these factors have contributed to growth,” he smiles. “In fact, our numbers are off the charts. When other airports were contracting, we were growing, and we continue to grow on the back of an expanding route network.

“This bodes well for Miami, although if I was being picky, I’d personally like to see more Asian carriers here. I’d also like to see more European and Middle Eastern carriers use us as their gateway to the Western Hemisphere.”

Last year was one of the most successful ever for MIA in termsof route development with American Airlines alone launchingsix new services – Asunción (Paraguay); Barcelona, (Spain);Manaus and Recife (Brazil); Roatan (Honduras); and Seattle(USA) – and five new carriers entering the market in LAN Colombia (Bogota), Interjet (Mexico City), Dutch Antilles Express (Curaçao), Aeroflot (Moscow) and GOL (São Paulo).

New non-stop routes added so far this year include San Diego, Guadeloupe and Martinique operated by American Airlines, and Paris CDG courtesy of low-cost carrier XL Airways France.

What next?

After nine years of construction, González feels that it is time for Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) to focus more ondeveloping a new business plan and commercial strategies forthe gateway.

“We want to take a step back and look at what we’redoing as a business and to grow that business,” admits González. “MIA is a vital economic generator for the city andregion, but there is so much more we can do in terms of itsbusiness potential.”

He notes that MIA “has a lot of real estate that needs to be leveraged” as an example of the possible new business opportunities that lay ahead.

“We’re in the process of working with the county to define possible future projects,” he said. “There’s lot of action here andI aim to be busy. Our plate is full for the foreseeable future.”

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