Miami’s largest air carrier is continuing to expand — with new service to Frankfurt announced just Wednesday — and even outgrowing its shiny new terminal, executives told the Miami Herald Wednesday.
During a nearly hour-long interview with the Miami Herald’s editorial board and other journalists, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and top Miami-based officials spoke about a wide-ranging set of topics, including the airline’s history, future plans, the recently completed merger with US Airways and the impact of Ebola on the air travel industry.
Parker also spoke Wednesday at the Beacon Council’s annual meeting, with his message timed to the 25th anniversary of American’s establishing its Miami hub. With 341 daily flights and 11,000 employees in the area, the Miami hub has seen tremendous growth since the airline had 19 flights a day and 200 employees 25 years ago.
At the Miami Herald’s office in Doral, he said the merger between American and US Airways, where he was previously CEO, has been “nicely successful” and beneficial to Miami because it created a network that allows more passengers to be fed into the hub.
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“The relationship between Miami International Airport and American has always been incredibly important, and the message is that it’s going to remain that way,” Parker said. “The airline’s never been stronger and our goal is to continue to get stronger, and expanding in Miami is critical to that.”
Nearly two weeks after launching new service between Miami and Cap-Haitien and announcing new routes starting in March to Austin, San Antonio, Salt Lake City and Kansas City, Parker dropped another piece of route news: American will begin nonstop flights between Miami and Frankfurt in the first half of 2015.
The number of added flights has been so substantial that “we’re actually maxing out all the gates,” said Art Torno, senior vice president for Mexico, Caribbean and Latin America.
With the $3 billion North terminal packed to bursting, the airline has been using gates in the less-polished Concourse E. American would like that section to be up to the same standard as the new wing, said Marilyn DeVoe, vice president for Miami.
She said a facelift is underway at the airport and should be completed in 6 to 12 months. While DeVoe said she doesn’t know what the schedule will look like going forward, another seven gates are available in Concourse E and the airline intends to continue growing in Miami.
But direct service between Miami and Asia — which many consider key to the airport’s evolution — is not expected to be provided by American Airlines anytime soon.
“It’s something that we’ve looked at over the last couple years fairly closely,” Torno said, taking into consideration the limited number of aircraft that could make that trip. “We’ve come to the conclusion, for the short term at least, that we’ll continue to serve that traffic via DFW [Dallas/Fort Worth] and Los Angeles.”
Torno said he is optimistic, however, that a resolution can be reached with the Venezuelan government over money owed to the airline. American and other carriers have reduced the number of flights between the U.S. and Venezuela in recent months.
Torno said he had meetings with some ministers in the South American country Tuesday about the matter.
“It’s a very complex situation, and I can tell you that we’ve struck a good understanding of what needs to be done, not only on our behalf, but also on behalf of other airlines,” he said. “I left fairly optimistic that the understanding is on the table in terms of how we can craft a pathway to resolve the issue.”
Another issue that has been receiving a lot of attention — and affecting airline industry stock performance — is how the fear of Ebola infection might impact travel, especially with Wednesday’s news that a nurse who has the disease traveled by plane before she tested positive.
Parker said American has seen “no change whatsoever” in bookings.
“We haven’t seen any impact on our customers and their willingness to fly,” he said. “We clearly, as an industry, are working with the proper officials to do everything we can to make sure others don’t get into the country.”
Miami Herald Business Editor Jane Wooldridge contributed to this report.
Beacon Council reports
The Beacon Council celebrated its 30th anniversary Wednesday with a tightly focused mission statement supplemented with goals designed to broaden its community impact.
Referring to confusion that has sometimes clouded perception of the Beacon Council’s role, president Larry Williams underscored the agency’s job as “growing jobs and investment in Miami-Dade County.” Incoming chairman Donna Abood, a commercial Realtor, outlined four goals for the coming year: increasing member engagement, branding Miami as a place for doing business, improving traffic and transportation infrastructure and continuing a years-long quest to bring a major air industry expo to Miami.
The agenda marked a clear departure from recent years, when members of the community and county commission complained that the agency failed to support small businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups. In remarks to the crowd at the Biltmore Hotel, Mayor Carlos Gimenez lauded the council’s broadened agenda and stated his commitment that the agency should serve “all” residents of Miami-Dade County.
Reviewing its accomplishments of the past year, the agency said it had completed 43 new location and expansion projects, created 2,423 new direct jobs, retained 761 existing jobs and brought more than $558million in new capital investment to the community. Retired banker Sheldon Anderson completed his year as Beacon Council chair.