MIA breaks passenger record — but just barely thanks to Zika and turmoil in Brazil

Miami International Airport on Jan. 7, 2017. The airport broke its 2015 passenger traffic number by 0.53 percent.
Miami International Airport on Jan. 7, 2017. The airport broke its 2015 passenger traffic number by 0.53 percent. For The Miami Herald

Miami International Airport just squeaked by to break its passenger numbers in 2016 despite the onslaught of Zika and a steep decline in traffic from Brazil. But only just.

The airport announced Monday it hit record numbers for the seventh year in a row, welcoming 44.6 million travelers — an increase of about half of 1 percent over 2015. It was MIA’s weakest growth rate since 2009, when arrivals and departures dropped by less than 1 percent. Growth hit 8.3 percent in 2015, up from about 1 percent in 2014.

Travel to Latin America was hit the hardest due to struggling economies in the region. And Brazil, Miami’s top international market, suffered the most: 600,000 fewer passengers traveled between MIA and Brazil in 2016.

Increases in other countries and domestically helped keep overall passenger counts in the positive, the airport said. Domestic travel rose by 0.26 percent to 23.2 million. Overall international traffic grew by 0.82 percent, accounting for 21.4 million passengers in 2016.

“We had a 30 percent decrease from out busiest international market, and we still ended 2016 better than 2015,” said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio Gonzalez, in a statement.

Zika also chomped down on MIA’s monthly traffic.

In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed Miami-Dade under a travel warning related to Zika, and the action made global headlines.

In August, weeks after the first Zika announcement, MIA saw passenger traffic flip from anemic growth to a modest decline. Traffic dropped 2 percent in August and then plunged 7 percent in October, according to MIA's online statistical report. November extended a four-month streak of declining passenger numbers; MIA did not release December figures with its year-end report.

In cargo, the airport came out ahead of 2015 by just by a hair as well: Annual freight traffic grew 0.37 percent to 2.18 million tons in 2016, according to statistics from the Miami-Dade Aviation Department.

The year was “one of [the airport’s] biggest years total” for new carriers, said airport spokesman Greg Chin. Ten new airlines, six passenger airlines and four cargo, including Pan American World Airways Dominicana, Scandinavian Airlines and Silver Airways, launched flights from MIA. The airport now hosts 109 carriers, the most of any U.S. airport.

On the roster for 2017 are four more carriers to international destinations, including the addition of low-cost European carrier WOW Air, which will begin offering non-stop flights to Reykjavik, Iceland, in April for as low as $99.

“With sustained growth by hub carrier American Airlines, more international carriers on the way, and new business opportunities for our cargo airlines, we expect another prosperous year in 2017,” Gonzalez said.