““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Miami is often called the unofficial capital of Latin America. During the last 25 years, it has taken on a much greater international flavor and cemented its place as a hub of finance, trade and transportation. The metropolitan area's airports have played a big role in this growth.
Statistics help tell the story. Miami ranked only 45th among U.S. cities in population as of 2005; but that same year, Miami International ranked first in international freight, third in international passengers and fourth in total cargo among U.S. airports, according to the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. The airport had an annual local economic impact of $19.1 billion. Miami International and related industries generated an estimated 242,387 jobs-one out of every 4.3 jobs in South Florida. When its $5.2 billion capital improvement program is complete, Miami International will have 130 passenger gates, 7.4 million square feet of terminal space, 17 new cargo buildings and a cargo ramp big enough for 17 Boeing 747s. New bridges, surface roads and parking facilities are also under construction.
As Miami International goes, so go the three other main Miami-area airports: Kendall-Tamiami, Opa-Locka and Homestead General Aviation. All have major development programs on the boards. Simply put, Miami airports are en fuego-on fire. Here's a closer look at each facility and its FBOs (ground-support facilities).
First, the good news: With 75 percent of its gates dedicated to international flights, Miami International is a handy place to deposit or retrieve global passengers, and getting into and out of it has been a lot easier since a fourth runway opened in 2003. With the shortest runway at 8,600 feet and the longest at 13,000, the airport can accommodate any airplane with any load in just about any weather.
Downtown is about a 20-minute car ride over the refurbished and widened surrounding streets.
But like the seven-figure bungalows in the Coconut Grove neighborhood, this is expensive real estate. Landing fees are steep and the rents force tenants to charge high prices for goods and services. Never seen jet-A for $6 a gallon before? You will here, at Signature Flight Support, which offers some compensation for high fuel charges in the form of three really big parking ramps and a first-class terminal with two conference rooms, TV and snooze rooms, a business center, even showers. Catering can be arranged with two hours' notice and Hertz rental cars are available on site.
SheltAir Miami, another ground-support operation at Miami International, is the FBO equivalent of bareboating. The fuel truck will meet you on the U.S. Customs ramp (International General Aviation Ramp). If you need additional services like ground power or water, another provider, Swissport Executive Aviation, will show up to take care of that. If you want to stay overnight, call the Miami-Dade Aviation Department at (305) 876-7550 to arrange for space on county-owned ramps.
Another fuel-only service, Tursair, is on the north side of the airport near the Customs ramp.
Located on the southwest side of town, Kendall-Tamiami Airport is 13 miles from downtown and 24 miles from Dolphin Stadium. The area around the airport is booming and the growth of businesses in southwest Miami-Dade County has directly impacted the airport. A 2000 study by the Florida Department of Transportation estimated that the facility generated $57 million in annual economic impact and $16 million in salaries.
Part of that is thanks to the nearby Homestead Motor Speedway. Tamiami attracts more than 100 visiting corporate aircraft during major national races each November.
Since 9/11, the airport has experienced "explosive" growth, according to its manager, Mike Handrahan. Tamiami features three runways. Two are parallel and the longest is 5,002 feet; however, plans are in the works to lengthen it to 7,350 feet.
Tamiami is a busy place with 420 based aircraft and more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings annually. Traffic increased 17 percent from 2005 to 2006 and fuel sales grew 20 percent. Customs services are available seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Businesses on the airport include flight schools and major aircraft repair centers. The airport's FBOs are also contributing to Tamiami's growth with significant expansions.
One such FBO, the Falcon Trust, is definitely raising the bar and is on a par with those in Aspen, Colo., and Burbank, Calif. Falcon's terminal is downright opulent. The new building is finished with Spanish tiled floors, rich woods and brass railings. The terminal contains a billiard room, a plush home-style theatre, a full bar, conference rooms, five private computer rooms, a library, a full gym with sauna and showers, private VIP suites, a weather station, a pilot shop and two lobbies. This is a place where you wouldn't mind getting stuck. For days.
Catering requires two hours' notice. Rental cars are available from Avis, Enterprise and Hertz. The ramp is huge and overnight hangar space is available, albeit on a rather limited basis. After-hours call-out can be arranged.
Reliance, another FBO at Tamiami, is in the middle of a major expansion. Current facilities include a conference room, pilot's lounge, kitchenette and showers. Catering is available with three hours' notice and rental cars are available from Enterprise. Aircraft maintenance is through Atlantic Aviation. The large ramp can accommodate 30 business jets and after-hours call-out is available.
Like Reliance, International Flight Center offers a conference room and pilot's lounge. Rental cars are available from Enterprise and there is 24-hour call-out service. Catering can be arranged with three hours' notice.
Air Sal, a modest-sized FBO, is at the northeast corner of Runway 9 Left. There is a common lounge and a place for pilots to check weather. Rental cars are available from Enterprise, Hertz and Dollar. The large ramp can accommodate 25 Citation-size business jets.
Opa-Locka Airport is 10 miles from downtown, 16 miles from Miami Beach and seven miles from Miami International Airport. This was the hub of most corporate aircraft activity during the Super Bowl, and FBOs there served 500 to 700 additional aircraft that visited for the game.
The airport is normally home base to 313 aircraft, of which 52 are jets and 109 are multi-engine. It is also home to air wings for the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs Service. (Customs service is available on the field.) Jets tend to gravitate to Opa-Locka because the main runway is a healthy 8,002 feet long. Construction is slated to begin on a 225-foot-tall control tower later this year. When completed, it will be the tallest general aviation tower in the southeastern U.S. Significant hangar and FBO construction is under way. Extensive aircraft maintenance, modification and refurbishment businesses are located on the field.
Miami Executive Aviation is the leading full-service FBO on the field. The terminal features a lunch counter, conference room and pilot's lounge. Catering can be arranged in one hour and rental cars are available from Enterprise and Hertz.
National Aviation, another FBO here, operates from a trailer. Inside are conference rooms and a pilot's lounge. Rental cars are available from Hertz and catering can be arranged in three to four hours. National has a huge 500,000-square-foot parking ramp.
The terminal for Opa-Locka Flightline, yet another FBO, is under construction and will feature a conference room and pilot's lounge. For now, the facility can arrange rental cars from Enterprise and provide the usual line service of lav, water and ground power. After-hours call-out service is available.
South Florida Aviation is another trailer-based FBO-for now. A terminal and hangar complex is under construction and should be open before the end of the year. The buildings will have 100,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of hangars on 41 acres on the airport's southeast side. When the facility is operational, it could seriously challenge Miami Executive Aviation's "top dog" status at the airport. Current services include crew cars, rental cars from Hertz and Enterprise and short-notice catering.
Homestead General Aviation
For almost 30 years, Homestead General Aviation Airport stood still and retained its bucolic charm as a jumping-off station for the Everglades National Park. But as Miami-Dade County development marched ever closer, pressure began to mount for change at this facility, which is 25 miles south of downtown Miami.
Construction of the nearby Homestead-Miami Speedway, venue for the November finals of the Craftsman, Busch Series and Nextel Cup nascar seasons, fueled a flurry of hotel and restaurant construction.
At the airport, a major current hangar construction project will add 37 box hangars capable of holding aircraft as big as King Air turboprops. Studies are under way to lengthen the main runway from 4,000 to 5,500 feet, making it suitable for most corporate jets. A plan for a 12-acre parking apron is also in the works.
Roberts Air South-the airport's sole FBO until later this year, when Homestead Jet Center is set to open-has a large ramp that can accommodate up to 40 transient aircraft. The terminal has a pilot's lounge and a kitchenette. Line service other than fuel isn't available. You can arrange catering with a day's notice and rental cars are available from Enterprise. After-hours call-out service costs $50.