Globetrotters in Miami are finding the world a little easier to explore these days.
When its inaugural flight from Doha lands Tuesday afternoon, Qatar Airways will become the latest airline to bring new international service to Miami International Airport, following new routes since April from Oranjestad, Aruba; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Brussels; and Madrid.
Qatar Airways, a five-star airline as rated by industry research firm Skytrax, will offer the first nonstop flights to the Middle East since El Al Israel Airlines discontinued its Tel Aviv-Miami route in 2008, and the first-ever service to a Gulf Arab state. The airline flies to more than 140 destinations, with a network that stretches deep into China, India, Africa and Europe.
“It gives us, for the first time a chance to reach into a part of the world that we didn’t have access to,” said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio González. “It really does open up that part of the world — culturally, economically.”
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, said in an email that the route made sense as the airline’s sixth destination in the United States because both cities are strong markets for tourism and Doha offers easy connections around the world. He said Miami’s status as a hub for art, fashion and international business also makes the city attractive.
“We expect it to perform exceptionally well,” he said. “We are a for-profit airline and do not put planes in cities where there is not a need. Qatar Airways identifies route opportunities that are underserved. The people of Miami are incredibly cultured and eager to explore the world. We are proud to offer them a five-star experience and take them to destinations that other carriers do not go, including some of the most historical places on earth.”
Four flights a week are planned, but that could increase to daily service if there is enough demand. The airline has said it will have an economic impact of $78.3 million in projected business revenue within Miami-Dade County, and Al Baker said direct service from the Middle East should have an additional positive effect on Miami’s economy.
William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, pointed out that a firm from Qatar bought the five-star St. Regis Bal Harbour earlier this year. “This is a five-star airline, five-star hotel, five-star destination,” he said.
The new service between Miami and Doha is one of 29 new routes and 21 new airlines added serving the Americas and Europe since 2010, which includes service to Helsinki on Finnair that starts in December. The international additions made MIA the United States’ second-busiest airport for international travelers last year, after New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
According to Airports Council International, a nonprofit association of airports, MIA jumped two spots to become the the 10th-busiest U.S. airport for passenger traffic in 2013. It serves 150 destinations and averages more than 850 daily passenger flights.
González is hard at work to add more service. One tool: an air service incentive program that provides him up to $3 million a year to lure air carriers with landing-fee waivers and matching dollars for advertising. In the past few years, airlines including Aeroflot, Iberia, Arkefly, TAP, Jetairfly, American Airlines and Qatar Airways have participated.
González said he is in contact with other airlines in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, which is no longer directly accessible from Miami. South African Airways flew here until early 2000, when it shifted to Atlanta after changing alliance partners.
“My biggest challenge, which will be my biggest victory, is to get an Asian carrier here,” González said. “I think it’s just going to be a game-changer for us.”
He said he expects that service to come within the next three to five years as Asian airlines take delivery of more planes that are efficient for long-haul flights.
Stuart Klaskin, CEO at airline-investment and consulting firm Jetstream Aviation Capital, called the lack of passenger service to Asia “the big gaping hole” in Miami’s offerings. Klaskin said he would have expected passenger service to closely follow existing cargo flights from Asia.
The Doha service, he said, “makes Miami into more of a true kind of global player.”
“That’s a good start,” Klaskin said. “When you think of Miami now delivering the service offerings out of Miami, the holes are in the Middle East and in Asia. So anything which starts to plug up those holes is a good thing.”
Angela Gittens, director general of Montreal-based Airports Council International, said Miami has become more attractive as the destination’s profile has grown and the airport has moved beyond its own growing pains during long periods of construction and mismanagement.
“You have to give a lot of credit to management at the airport,” said Gittens, who was Miami-Dade’s aviation director from 2001 until 2004. “I think they’ve put together a very good retail program . . . The airport looks good, it functions well. They’ve kind of regained a lot of their mojo, if you will, in terms of getting new routes and growing the traffic.”
Travelers have taken note.
Arnoldo Reyes, 36, lived in Miami before going away to college and then moving to New York. He worked in New York for several years, traveling frequently, and said he wasn’t interested in moving back to Miami because the city didn’t offer enough air service.
But when airlines, especially main carrier American, started adding flights, Reyes had a realization: “I said, ‘Why am I in New York? I can get direct flights to a bunch of places from Miami as well.’ ”
As PayPal’s head of business and market development for Latin America and the Caribbean, Reyes, a Miami resident again, travels internationally about once a week. He said Miami has the routes and frequencies that he needs for that job. But he would like to see more — and more frequent — flights throughout Europe as well as service to Asia.
“The amount of airlines and destinations that the airport has, just naturally the more diverse types of people will be in that city — and that typically leads to more business in that city,” he said.
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