Flying back and forth to Washington almost every week, I spend as much time as anyone at Miami International Airport, or MIA.
In 2013, a record 40 million passengers passed through MIA’s doors on their way to their destinations. MIA’s international passenger growth rate of approximately 24 percent over the past five years has been nothing short of astounding for South Floridians who remember what it looked like only a decade ago. Whether they were coming or going, these passengers all experienced one of the best places Miami has to offer, the airport. Yes, that’s right, the airport.
MIA has benefitted from steady leadership and guidance. Emilio Gonzalez and his expert team have worked diligently to secure federal funds and increase efficiencies in a place that many would consider ungovernable. One only needs to stand at a terminal for five minutes to appreciate the breadth of their task.
However, the South Florida delegation and I have been dogged in our determination to get the federal resources necessary to make MIA a world-class airport. I’ve worked to make sure Miami’s reputation for sparkling beaches and plentiful sun is enhanced by its airport, our gateway to much of the world. Our community recently benefitted from a grant of $101 million from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — the second-largest grant ever from the agency.
This Other Transaction Agreement, or OTA, is crucial to funding construction of a new automated checked baggage system for MIA’s Central and South terminals and will absorb 90 percent of the construction’s cost. There will also be construction of more passenger corridors for ease of travel. The federal alphabet soup notwithstanding, this is good news for MIA and South Floridians.
Recently, self-service passport kiosks were installed at MIA’s North Terminal. These kiosks will help alleviate wait times by allowing travelers to scan their passport themselves and proceed to the security line without additional delay. In this age of self-checkout at supermarkets, drug stores and some malls, it makes sense that MIA should have the most up-to-date and customer-friendly technology in order to help not only the traveler but also airport personnel who must manage increased traffic through one of Miami-Dade County’s main economic engines.
Airport security personnel, the linchpin of any successful airport, have also long-needed relief during peak travel hours. I’m proud to have fought for the implementation of a program that allows the Miami-Dade Aviation Department to reimburse Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for extra man-hours to better handle the heightened international traffic at MIA.
Our airport is one of only three in the nation selected for this important program to help travelers. Although we highlight the versatility of one of Miami’s farthest-reaching transportation hubs, we must also keep in mind that there are those who want to do us harm or violate our laws who make use of the same facilities.
It is imperative that we always be vigilant and work to deter those who would cause mayhem at our airport and in our community. In addition to helping secure our community and one of our prized economic hubs, the addition of more CBP officers will allow for a further streamlining of queue lines and will also help in the reduction of wait times. These positive steps to add more officers will not only help South Floridians but improve the experience of the travelers who use MIA, too.
The future is bright for MIA. In addition to more CBP personnel, improvements to the airport are making travelling a more efficient and pleasant experience. There’s no limit to the heights our airport can reach.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, is the U.S. representative for Florida's 27th District, serving in Congress since 1989.
Learn more about MIA from Emilio T. González, Miami-Dade’s aviation director. Go to miamiherald.com/opinion and click on Speakup.