Miami airport's key priority: Improve efficiency
By Shannon Pettypiece
Miami International Airport's $4.8 billion expansion program is expected to make the airport more efficient and attractive to low-fare carriers.
The airport expects to almost double usage of its gates by 2007. The gates are now used an average 3.5 times a day, said Narinder Jolly, assistant director of facilities development.
Aviation consultant Hernan Galindo, vice president of AvGroup, said low-cost carriers need an airport with efficiency.
"They have to operate more efficiently to attract carriers that have a model that demands a cheaper way of operating," Mr. Galindo said. "The only way they can be more competitive is to make the airport more efficient."
Miami International recently invested $12.8 million in an computer operating system that will allow any airline to hook up to any ticket or check-in counter without additional costs or time - which officials hope will entice more low-fare operators.
"New airlines will not have to spend any capital to plug in here," said Mr. Jolly. "We will be able to have them come in and finish negotiations in the morning and operate in the afternoon."
When two additional taxiways open in December, the airport will reduce the time it takes to get from opposite ends of the airfield to 19 minutes from 35 during peak times, Mr. Jolly said.
To compete for lucrative low-fare airlines, Miami International must become more efficient, consultants say, and improvements in the works will address some of the key components budget carriers look for when choosing a new destination.
Officials at Song, the low-fare arm of Delta Airlines, say the main things it considers when choosing an airport are time, fees and technology.
A major part of Song's business strategy is 50 minutes turnaround times and technology compatible with its unique system, said spokeswoman Stacy Geagan.
"We need to be able to get to the gate quickly as well as get away from the gate quickly," she said.
She also said the slightest increase in landing and passenger fees could affect Song's decision to go from one airport to another.
"Anything that deals with landing fees is something we look at very hard," Ms. Geagan said. "Multiply it by millions of passengers, and that is significant."
Miami International expects its cost per passenger will increase by $15 by 2015, but that estimate has been reduced since 9/11, when the airport expected an increase of $25.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's low-fare model has made it one of Song's top cities, Ms. Geagan said, and in November, it was chosen over Miami to be the South Florida destination of TED, a new low-fare division of United Airlines.
"Fort Lauderdale is one of our largest cities," Ms. Geagan said. "They have always made it attractive for low-fare airlines, whether it is ease of use or access or a sense of partnership with the airport."
But while Fort Lauderdale International may have every low-fare airline in the country, there is still room in the market for Miami, experts say.
"There is a market in Miami that is demanding low fares, and those people are driving up to Fort Lauderdale," Mr. Galindo said. "Miami just can't turn around and avoid the fact that they are losing service."