Could Miami be getting a non-stop flight to Asia?

One of Cathay Pacific’s cargo planes unloading at Miami International Airport
One of Cathay Pacific’s cargo planes unloading at Miami International Airport

Miami’s business community may finally be able to spread its wings to Asia.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is considering a proposal from Airbus Group SE for a larger version of the newest A350 wide-body model, Cathay CEO Ivan Chu told Bloomberg News in a recent interview. The larger model could potentially allow for a non-stop, direct flight between Miami and Hong Kong — service long coveted by local business leaders.

Cathay, Asia’s largest international airline by passengers, already has 48 A350’s on order. A variation dubbed the A350-8000, could offer trade capacity for an extended operating range. According to Chu, the standard A350 is able to serve other destinations on the east and west coasts of the U.S, but not Miami or other Latin American destinations.

Christine Barney, chairwoman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, applauded the progress.

“Miami is just at the beginning of its journey to become ‘China ready’ and one of the key factors in getting closer to achieving that status is a direct, nonstop flight to and from mainland China,” Barney said. “I think there is tremendous amount of opportunity in a partnership with China, even beyond real estate and tourism. Our banking, transportation and even construction industries are of great interest to the Chinese.”

Chu’s comments to Bloomberg followed a meeting between Miami-Dade Aviation Department representatives and the airline at the recent International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Dublin, Ireland, said Greg Chin, the aviation department’s communications director. The conference is the world's largest meeting of airline leaders.

“The strength of the Miami market and our lucrative route network throughout the Americas continue to draw the attention of the world’s top airlines,” said Aviation Department Director Director Emilio T. González in a June 7 press release. “We were proud to be invited to this year’s AGM and advance our discussions with carriers who are considering air service from MIA to Asia…”

Local business leaders have long sought a a direct Asia flight. More than 400,000 passengers flew from Miami to Asia in 2015, according to Sabre Gobal Demand data, according to MIA.

To further the effort for an Asian direct flight, the aviation department created the MIA-Asia Task Force last year of 39 community and business groups, including the Japanese Business Association and The Greater Miami Beach Hotel Association. A survey commissioned by MIA found 86 local organizations generate more than $20 million in annual travel to Asia.

According to Chin, Miami can physically accept the larger version of the A3150. Currently, Cathay provides cargo service to MIA via other U.S. airports. The airline is owned by the Swire Group, which also owns Swire Properties, developer of the recently opened Brickell City Centre mixed-used development.

Jaap Donath, senior vice president of research & strategic planning with the Beacon Council, the county’s public-private economic development agency, said direct flights could encourage Chinese investment in South Florida.

“A direct flight would be very helpful for potential Chinese investors. We could see increased interest in investments particularly from companies in logistics that move cargo from the around the world into Latin America,” said Donath.

Before Airbus Group SE produces the larger version of the A3150, the manufacturer has said it must determine whether there is sufficient interest. Airbus Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier said this week to Bloomberg that Airbus is still determining if there is enough demand to warrant a billion euro investment in the A350-8000. According to Bregier, that decision is unlikely to come within the next couple of months.