Air Force offers county new airport site at Homestead
Miami-Dade is working on multiple deals to build out its general aviation airports and is “closer than ever” to an agreement for a new one at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Aviation Director Lester Sola said.
Commissioners Oct. 6 are to decide whether to direct Mayor Carlos Giménez to “expeditiously” pursue a contract with the Air Force so that the county can establish air operations on the base’s south side.
But after almost five years of false starts, an agreement may already be forthcoming.
“We finally got communications from the Air Force that they were willing and even offered a site [for] which we’re willing to negotiate – a different site but [near] where they have offered,” Mr. Sola told Miami Today, crediting the efforts of commissioners Dennis Moss, Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Rebeca Sosa as pivotal to the pending deal.
Operations at the county’s four general aviation airports – Miami Executive, Miami Opa-Locka Executive, Miami Homestead General Aviation, and Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport – have long run at a deficit, Mr. Sola said. Miami International Airport has covered the difference.
But in recent years, he continued, that trend has begun to turn around, led first by buildouts at the airfield just 11 miles north of downtown Miami.
“What’s happened at Opa-Locka, the full development, is now it’s a revenue-generating enterprise for our community and network of airports,” he said. “The amount of growth at that airport – the private jets, development of cargo, what’s been done under the leadership of Commissioner [Barbara] Jordan and the rest of the board – created a model for … Miami Executive and ultimately Homestead General, or Homestead [Air Reserve] Base’s joint use.”
Next up for redevelopment: Miami Executive Airport, the county’s busiest general aviation airport by flights, according to figures from Aviation spokesman Greg Chin.
The county is now discussing “major development deals” for Miami Executive, Mr. Sola said, and once that’s done, the county will benefit from additional operations on the military base down south.
“The next logical step is the joint-use operation at Homestead Air Base, because the size of the runways and taxiways gives us significant amounts of growth,” he said. “Taking steps today to develop that partnership with the Air Force will pay dividends in the future.”
Although air traffic has slowed at MIA due to the coronavirus pandemic – passenger flights are still down 66% year-to-date, while cargo-only flights are up 25% to offset drops in freight carried aboard passenger planes – those numbers don’t extend to the county’s smaller airports.
Miami-Dade’s general aviation airports act as relievers for MIA, accepting smaller planes that would otherwise disrupt operations at the county’s main air hub, Mr. Sola said. Each has a specialty whose capacity could swell under the $5 billion airport capital improvement program that county lawmakers approved in July.
Projections through December, based on flights through August, show sizeable jumps in traffic at all four existing general aviation airports.
The Aviation Department anticipates a more than 19% increase at Miami Executive, whose capacious runways can handle large planes and even some commercial jets. Last year, the airport welcomed 200,726 flights. This year, the county expects 239,726 flights there through December.
The county expects Homestead General, which is just outside the county’s urban development boundary and mostly handles private jets and some farming operations, to gain roughly 17% more flights, from 65,000 in 2019 to 76,000.
Dade-Collier, which is outside of Miami-Dade but run by county staff, isn’t likely to crack 4,000 flights this year. But it’ll get close, the county says. Last year, the airport accepted 3,048 flights. This year, the number should rise about 20% to 3,662.
As its name implies, it’s primarily for training but is big enough to accommodate commercial jets.
The greatest increase is expected at Miami Opa-Locka, which last year welcomed 135,999 flights. This year, it’s projected to receive 174,09 – a 28% uptick.
“Opa-Locka has basically become the center of all our private jets, regional jets and service by several fixed-base operators, and it’s heavily used whether it be for the Super Bowl, football games, national championships or Art Basel,” Mr. Sola said. “Any type of local event that is an international draw, they tend to gravitate to Opa-Locka.”