American, United see full rebound, new flights by summer
By Jaime Levy
Officials from Miami International Airport's two largest carriers say they expect to see capacity - and hopefully passenger levels - at or above post-Sept. 11 levels by mid-summer.
American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin said that at American's Miami hub, the company is back to the same number of flights it had before Sept. 11. But winter numbers normally would be higher than those in September.
With two additional routes being added June 15 - to Medellin, Colombia and Santiago, Dominican Republic - the airline, which carried nearly half of Miami International's passengers in 2001, will have more flights in and out of the airport than it late last summer.
"The important thing is we have flights back in our system," said Ms. Pantin, who declined to comment on current passenger levels. "Miami is where it was - other hubs are not at the same levels."
United Airlines, which carried nearly 6% of Miami International's passengers in 2001, making it the airport's second-largest carrier, will likely hit pre-Sept. 11 levels by the summer, said Stephen Beatus, vice president of Latin America, Miami and the Caribbean for United.
"So far this year," he said, "we're down about 10% year over year for the first two months. On the surface, that may sound alarming. But on the other hand, the volumes have considerably improved since then from the fourth-quarter, post-Sept. 11 period.
"We have on a daily average 19 departures per day. It was previously 21. We don't want to portray this as a huge rebound, but demand seems to be strengthening as we go through this year."
Miami International has seen continued growth in passenger travel since Sept. 11. The most recent available numbers from the airport were for December 2001, when passenger travel was down about 11.6% from December 2000.
Although the numbers are still off, they show improvement from earlier in the year. In September, for example, Miami-Dade County Mayor Penelas said the airport was losing $600,000 a day because of a plummet in passenger travel.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday predicted that airline traffic would show a decline overall this year and recover heartily in 2003. The forecast also projected that passenger traffic will hit "more normal levels of growth" by fiscal year 2004.
Analyst Brad Garner, of Smith Travel Research, which gathers data on the US lodging industry, said air travel to Florida this summer - though typically not South Florida's strongest season - could be a good gauge for the tourism industry as a whole. Most of Miami's visitors come by plane.
"If you work to bring both leisure and business travel in there, we think it would be a leading indicator in terms of how quickly the industry could move forward," he said. "All the conventions that were canceled, all the family vacations - all of that is probably going to come back around this summer.
"If the summer is well-traveled and strong, it would be a good indicator that demand is building back in the industry. When you start to build demand in air travel, folks have to stay somewhere. As airlines increase capacity, those folks have to have overnight accommodations."