Also on tap for March: the opening of three American Airlines gates in Concourse D stationed near the old baggage shed. For now, Abreu said, the new federal arrivals center is about 85 percent done and the overall North Terminal is 95 percent complete.
The entire north terminal program has been extremely challenging because of staging, he said. We had to work while maintaining passenger traffic, sometimes through a maze to be able to turn as much area as we could over to the contractor. It has literally been like retiling your bathroom while youre taking a shower.
Just added to the list of new airport amenities last weekend was the new $506 million Metrorail Orange Line that can connect travelers to downtown Miami.
This is a major one-two victory for the destination, said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. Youve got this really state-of-the-art center and rail line. These are game changers.
The new facility arrives at a time of major change for its biggest user, American Airlines. The company, which handles about 70 percent of the airports traffic, is in the midst of reorganizing under federal bankruptcy protection but has said its future plans include significant growth at hubs including Miami.
Profitable Latin American routes are especially important for Americans operations in Miami, making a more efficient and welcoming processing center a necessity.
Anything thats going to make traveling to Miami easier, thats good for American, said Marilyn DeVoe, vice president for American Airlines Miami hub.
Travel expert John E. DiScala, who runs the JohnnyJet.com website, said the airport had needed the upgrades. He used to go out of his way to avoid Miami International Airport whenever possible, but said he now enjoys traveling through the new north terminal.
Even as this phase of improvements wrap up, more projects loom. An environmental assessment a very early step for a proposed Airport City project with two hotels, office and retail space could be finished by November. Also ahead, in the very distant future, is an improvement project for the central terminal, made up of Concourses E, F and G, which is smaller and far less appealing than its shiny new neighbors to the north and south.
Abreu said long-range plans dont call for a major re-working of that area until 2024. The cost is expected to reach billions of dollars and the area only handles about 8 percent of the airports traffic. But in the interim, he wants to invest in some cosmetic upgrades.
For frequent traveler and Miami Beach businessman Ricky Arriola, a completely spruced-up airport would be welcome: I think Miami can hold its head up high and say the newer terminals are world class, or at least very comparable to what world class is from an appearance standpoint. The problem is that those other terminals are just really antiquated. Its an eyesore for Miami.