Aviation director hints that new priorities may better serve MIA
By Victor Cruz
Although Miami International Airport moves 50 million passengers a year and is a function of county government, Aviation Director Angela Gittens said she recognizes that the airport's No. 1 customer is the local business community.
"To a large extent it is the business community of Miami that generates traffic at the airport," she said. "And these people need to know what we are up to."
What the airport is up to these days is a $6 billion capital improvement program, expected to be complete by 2010. Ongoing projects include the redevelopment of the north and south terminals, which are set to open January 2005, a new chiller plant, a new runway and a ground transportation program consisting of 11 projects valued at $360 million.
Since taking the helm of the airport March 19, Ms. Gittens' staff said she has attended 23 business functions and was keynote speaker at many.
During her talks she lets people know that some of what is outlined for expansion at the airport, including "$1.4 billion in capital needs that can compete for high priority with the projects already approved" may only be part of a "wish list."
She and her staff are comparing the financial capacity and competitive markets to decide what projects might be deferred, Ms. Gittens said.
Despite years-old projections of 55 million passengers by 2010, it's not clear if the airport will hit 48 million, primarily because of recent growth at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, she said.
"We need a new forecast," Ms. Gittens said.
For her market comparisons, she said she is using Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Atlanta and Houston airports.
The message she is conveying about her ongoing analysis is that there may be a shift in priorities for the capital improvement plan coming that may mean delays in some aspects, as well as acceleration in others.
Ms. Gittens would not say what might be delayed. That, she said, is a matter that would be decided at the end of the year when she presents the county commission with the results of her analysis.
In the meantime, the business community seems to be listening.
"She's clearly in control of the issues and seems to be analyzing the airport and asking hard questions as to how to go ahead," said Carlos Ruiz de Quevedo, president of the Miami Rotary Club who invited her to speak this month.
"In hearing about the report card Ms. Gittens has gotten in the first months on the job, in effect, it tells us how she is going to make Miami International one of the best airports in the world," said Felipe Madrigal, chairman and CEO of the Doral & Airport West Chamber of Commerce.
Are all of these public presentations part of a public relations campaign? Ms. Gittens, who served as director of Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta from 1993-98, said she doesn't have a PR campaign but tries to go to every event she is invited to speak at, barring schedule conflicts.
"This is not anything that I would not have done in Atlanta," she said. "It's all part of talking to our customers."
Beginning with an April 1 talk to the county's First Community Small Business Enterprise Conference, she has stressed the four cornerstone principles that she said guide progress at Miami International: safety and security, economic vitality, customer service and environmental responsibility.
She said she also uses her speaking engagements to address the fundamental questions she was asked when she first arrived in Miami-Dade.
The first of those questions was why the capital improvement plan was not moving.
"We've awarded $1 billion in contracts in July," she said in response.
The second question was about what is and isn't being done at the airport in her four core areas.
"Each of these areas has its own constituents," Ms. Gittens said. She said she wants to update everyone as she speaks to specific groups.
As progress at the airport continues, the executed pieces of the capital improvement project are making their way into her talks. The Doral & Airport West Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 21 got some news about the progress of the noise abatement program, a subject near and dear to that area, with 800 members representing businesses west and north of the airport.
The Doral group was briefed on a new proposal for further noise-abatement testing of eastern-flowing departures from the airport.
The airport is waiting for Federal Aviation Authority approval of operation procedure changes to reduce noise. That assessment represents two years of work by the airport's noise-abatement task force and six months of testing departure patterns east and west of the airport, Ms. Gittens said.