| <30>Miami air routes to Spain, Latin America soaring
<01>By Scott Blake
When it comes to flights connecting South Florida to Spain and Latin America, Miami International Airport is truly taking off.
Consider the big picture: In 2010, about 12.6 million or 75% of Miami's 16.9 million international passengers traveled to and from Latin American and the Caribbean.
This year, Latin American and Caribbean passenger traffic through Miami was up 6.9% from January through August, compared with the same period last year, according to the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department, which runs the airport.
"The consolidation, mergers and changes that have occurred in the Latin American airline industry have created a new family of strong, profitable and good-service carriers that have chosen to not only maintain but to grow their Miami presence," said Chris Mangos, the airport's marketing director.
"Combined with American Airlines' largest international operation in its system" at Miami, Mr. Mangos added, "they have all contributed to MIA's prominence as the world's largest gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean."
Meanwhile, passenger traffic between Miami and Spain grew to 395,722 passengers in 2010, up more than 14% from 345,942 passengers in 2009. Service to Madrid, for example, has increased to 21 flights a week, up from 14 a year ago.
The "Miami-Spain market is growing," Mr. Mangos said, "despite the economic situation on both sides of the Atlantic."
Fostering that growth has been the US government's granting of trans-Atlantic antitrust immunity status to American Airlines, Miami's largest carrier; British Airways; and Iberia airline. That has allowed the three carriers to plan, sell and operate flights as if they were one carrier, Mr. Mangos said.
Other players in the Spain-Florida market are Air Europa and Lan Airlines.
Service between Miami and Latin America has become huge, with American Airlines playing the leading role, making Miami its hub into Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Miami International now offers nonstop service from and to 66 destinations in Latin America, with more than 1,120 departing flights each week.
In 2010, that amounted to 47% of the entire US-South American air passenger market; 30% of the US-Central American market; and 29% of the US-Caribbean market, according to Miami International.
Latin American flights are so busy "due to our cultural affinity and ties to the region," Mr. Mangos said. "So many people from the "South' have homes, relatives, and businesses here. Or they vacation here."
One flight market in particular — Brazil — is growing by leaps and bounds, as Brazil has become Greater Miami's top foreign visitors market.
With American Airlines and Brazilian carrier TAM, Miami International now offers nonstop service to six cities in Brazil and one-stop service to a seventh Brazilian city, and service to an eighth Brazilian city is expected to start next summer, Mr. Mangos said.
Overall, the number of Brazilian passengers at Miami International increased to 1,318,553 in 2010, up 20% from 1,099,003 in 2009.
"Additionally," Mr. Mangos said, "we saw growth in 2010 from virtually all [Latin American] markets, including Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Argentina, Panama, and Peru."
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