Business Monday

Powerful aviation industry soars in Miami-Dade

Miami International Airport
Miami International Airport Miami International Airport

NEXT WEEK: The rapid growth of international passenger flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale have made the world South Florida’s oyster.

That frequent rumble overhead signals more than just another planeload of New Yorkers escaping to the tropics.

Building on its early 20th century history as a commercial and military flight center, Miami is thrusting deeper into the aviation cosmos, increasing its presence as an international nexus for aviation and aerospace services. In the past five years, local aviation-sector jobs have grown from a total of $1.2 billion in payroll to $2 billion, now accounting for one one of every four local jobs.

That growth helps explain why the industry’s top trade group, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has chosen Miami for its key North American confab in 2017. The Wings of Change conference, slated for May 2-3, will bring together about 300 industry decision makers from around the region to discuss infrastructure, regulatory issues, passenger trends and technology.

“The purpose of Wings of Change is to bring together key air transport decision-makers, government officials and airlines to examine aviation’s top priority issues and map out strategies for the industry’s future,” said Peter Cerdá, the Miami-based regional vice president for the Americas at IATA, which represents 268 airlines in 121 countries. “Air transport has an oversized footprint in the local economy, and it is fitting that we recognize this example and leadership by bringing Wings of Change to Miami.”

The conference is the result of ongoing efforts by the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development agency supported by tax dollars and private funds. The council’s 20-year initiative to grow the aviation industry kicked into high gear under the 2012 One Community One Goal economic diversification program, which identified the industry as a target for growth. In the years since, Miami has partnered with the offices of the county mayor and Florida governor to boost its brand at industry events including the signature Paris Air Show and has played host to peripatetic conferences, including the industry’s overhaul and repair conference.

The Wings of Change conference, slated for May 2-3, will bring together about 300 industry decision makers from around the region to discuss infrastructure, regulatory issues, passenger trends and technology.

While initiatives to bring a commercial air show to Miami-Dade have been quashed by the Pentagon and environmentalists, Beacon Council officials hope the Wings of Change conference will become a signature Miami event that will help attract and grow the industry’s local presence, much like SeaTrade, a long-standing global cruise shipping conference, and eMerge Americas, the 4-year-old tech conference. Though each of those are held annually, Wings of Change — previously held in Chile — would likely be held every two years, said James Kohnstamm, the Beacon Council’s senior vice president of economic development.

The Miami event “will be a real opportunity to highlight the importance of the industry for Miami-Dade,” said Alex de Gunten, an executive with South Florida-based HEICO and chairman of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s aviation committee.

Thanks to Miami’s organic growth as an international destination and the council’s efforts, the number of aviation and aerospace companies in Miami-Dade has grown from 448 in 2011 to 483 today, resulting in industry-sector job growth of 23 percent and an increase of average salaries from $60,491 to $82,811. In Broward County, industry jobs have grown nearly as much, by 20.8 percent over the past five years.

When it comes to vying for aviation business, Miami has plenty of competition. But while Boeing’s home field of Seattle-Tacoma commandeers U.S. manufacturing, Southern California ranks high for repair and maintenance, Memphis competes for for parts distribution, and Florida’s Space Coast competes for aerospace ventures, Miami brings together multiple critical services in a single location: overhaul and maintenance, parts distribution and training for both aviation and aerospace.

The number of aviation and aerospace companies in Miami-Dade has grown from 448 in 2011 to 483 today, resulting in industry sector job growth of 23 percent and an increase of average salaries from $60,491 to $82,811.

“Miami has a number of areas — like tourism and real estate — where we have a competitive advantage,” said Jerry Haar, a business professor at Florida International University. “But we don't have many with a sustainable competitive advantage, and one of these is aviation.

“We’re the gateway to the Americas. When LatAm Airlines or other regional air carriers need to service their planes, they don’t go to Denver ... They come to Miami,” Haar said. “You have an industrial cluster here — airports, commercial and private aviation, parts and services, pilot training, attorneys specializing in aviation law. Anything that feeds into and out of aviation is here.”

All are just steps from the nation’s busiest airport for international cargo and third-busiest for international passenger traffic.

Miami International and five smaller public airports used for private air traffic account for 37,500 direct jobs and support 282,000 direct and indirect jobs — one out of four in Miami-Dade, according to Joseph Napoli, chief of staff and senior policy advisor for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. Napoli, who was a U.S. army colonel, took over the MIA position in early 2014.

Miami International Airport is getting an environmentally friendly makeover, which is expected to save the airport $40 million over 14 years. Video by Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald Staff

While MIA is the region’s biggest player by far, aviation is also a multibillion industry in Broward, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the public-private economic development organization for Broward. Its hub is the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which employs 12,500 directly and has an annual economic impact of more than $13.2 billion.

At MIA alone, more than 200 companies work in maintenance, repair and overhaul. Hundreds of others are dotted around the county and in Broward. Some are relatively small, like Avionica, which makes electronic devices with a team of 55. Others are giants , like publicly traded Boeing.

At MIA alone, more than 200 companies work in maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Industry jobs involve a wide range of skills, including maintenance, repair, air traffic control, fuel services, catering, freight, security, customs and freight logistics, engineering, passenger services, clean manufacturing of electronics and complex parts. And actually flying the aircraft.

One of the best known locally is HEICO, a publicly traded company that designs and builds high-tech components for aircraft, spacecraft, telecommunications systems and defense and medical equipment.

HEICO’s Miami center repairs and overhauls thrust reversers and engine cowlings. In Hollywood, the company manufactures replacement parts for jet engines. Facilities in 19 other states and 12 countries have made components for NASA’s Juno spacecraft and its OSIRIS Rex spacecraft, underwater locator beacons for flight and data recorders, self-sealing auxiliary fuel tanks for military helicopters and power supplies for radar and electronic warfare on warships.

Since 2011, the company has doubled in size, de Gunten said. HEICO now has more than 5,000 employees worldwide — more than 1,000 in Florida — with annual revenues of $1.5 billion.

Other local players include:

▪ KLX Aerospace Solutions, an international distributor of specialized aerospace parts and equipment. In late 2016, the company announced it would move its global quarters from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade, expanding its current Miami workforce of 600 with 400 additional hires in the coming years.

▪ American Airlines. The company’s total Miami workforce of 12,000 includes 600 mechanics who provide scheduled maintenance and repairs to an average of 47 aircraft every day for AA’s Boeing and Airbus passenger planes. “We’ve added about 100 mechanics since the merger with US Airways [in 2013],” said Roy Fonseca, the MIA-based managing director of line maintenance for AA’s southeast region. The company stocks $135 million in parts and equipment inventory here, including supply parts for other repair stations in most of Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean.

▪ AAR, an international firm that repairs landing gear assemblies and airframes at three Miami sites. They have several hundred employees in Miami.

▪ Barfield, a maintenance and repair company affiliated with Air France and KLM that has three facilities and 350 employees here.

Miami-Dade’s success in attracting a wide range of companies is thanks partly to its strong talent pool, said Jaap Donath, the Beacon Council’s senior vice president of research and strategic planning. And that, in turn, is thanks to educational programs at George T. Baker Aviation, a program of Miami-Dade Public Schools; Miami Dade College’s School of Aviation; aviation programs at Florida Memorial University; and engineering programs at Florida International University and the University of Miami. Highly lauded Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University also is in Florida, at Daytona Beach, with a large branch in Fort Lauderdale.

The quality of education has translated into flight training as well. Miami now has the nation’s largest cluster of flight-training facilities and simulators, Kohnstamm said. They include a Boeing facility used to train pilots from all over the world, and Airbus’s Americas flight training center. Earlier this year, a Franco-Italian turboprop-plane manufacturer ATR opened a Miami training center, creating about 40 new jobs.

Miami-Dade’s success in attracting a wide range of companies is thanks partly to its strong talent pool, said Jaap Donath, the Beacon Council’s senior vice president of research and strategic planning.

The pilots who come here to Miami may come for weeks at a time, bringing their families with them, Kohnstamm said. “They have a big impact on the local economy,” using hotels or rental apartments, eating at restaurants, shopping, renting vehicles and visiting local sites.

Miami International Airport is a key driver. Airport officials want to keep it that way.

In 2016, the airport welcomed a total of 44.6 million passengers, up 16 percent since 2011. It increased its tonnage of cargo by 9 percent to 2.1 million tons, equal to $53 billion in air freight imports and exports — making it the largest U.S. airport in international air freight.

Miami International Airport generated $33.7 billion for the local economy, making it the county’s largest economic engine. That figure included direct income and expenditures of MIA and all the people and enterprises operating there, including fees charged by the airport, wages and spending on the acquisition of goods and services plus money spent by travelers and others. It also counts the ripple effect from payments made in other business-to-business operations and to people outside MIA, who then spend money in the local economy.

Global passenger traffic is expected to double by 2035, Napoli said; along with the 20 new international destinations it has added over the past three years, it is seeking new passenger routes to Asia. Adding a new international daily flight has a ripple effect, adding $30 million per year to the city’s economy, he said.

For growth to continue, MIA must expand without become too expensive for carriers.

“Often it isn’t about building the next Taj Mahal, but creating a cost-efficient environment while providing the airlines room to grow,” Napoli said.

On the cargo side, MIA has increased its role in transporting pharmaceuticals and perishables as it continues to invest in new technology. “But just like on the passenger side, it is vital that the air cargo industry future-proof itself” by eliminating paper documents and using e-freight.

“We can’t build a brand-new airport with unlimited space and money, like in the Middle East,” Napoli said. “We have a competitive edge and a sound strategic plan. We’re looking at innovative ways to grow.”


Customers and Boarder Protection inspect millions of flowers that arrive at Miami International Airport ahead of Valentine's Day.


A previous version of this story misstated the number of American Airlines’ total workforce at Miami International Airport.





Miami Herald writers Jane Wooldridge and Chabeli Herrera contributed to this report.

Economic impact of aviation, aerospace on Miami-Dade and the region

Miami’s long history in commercial aviation and its burgeoning role as a major hub for domestic and international travel, global air cargo and logistics have generated a huge demand for aviation-related goods and services.

Home to operations for 109 airlines, Miami International Airport now is in first place among U.S. airports for international air freight and third place for movement of international passengers.

Aside from MIA, there are five other public-use airports in Miami-Dade County: Miami Executive Airport, Miami Opa-locka Executive Airport, Miami Homestead General Aviation Airport, the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, and the Miami Seaplane Base. There are also more than 30 private airports and heliports in the county.

MIA alone is an economic dynamo:

Economic impact on South Florida in 2016: $33.4 billion

Direct jobs: 37,500

Direct and indirect jobs: 282,000 (one in every four jobs in Miami-Dade. This includes suppliers of goods and services)

Total passengers (domestic and international): 44.6 million

Air cargo: $53 billion


▪ 483 aviation and aerospace companies

▪ Salaries averaging $83,435 per year

▪ First place nationwide for its cluster of global flight simulators.

▪ 7.9 percent estimated growth rate for aviation and aerospace between 2016 and 2017, compared to

3.4 percent nationally.

Sources: Miami International Airport, Miami-Dade Beacon Council and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI)

Aviation and aerospace companies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties

Here is a sample of the hundreds of companies that operate in the regional aviation and aerospace sector. The list includes manufacturers of parts and equipment, service companies (maintenance, repair, overhaul, fuel) as well as aviation and flight training facilities, some of which are part of large international air carriers. It does not include the 109 commercial airlines that fly in and out of Miami International Airport.

AAR (Aircraft maintenance and repair, including airframe, landing gear brakes)

AeroThrust Holdings (jet engine maintenance, repair, overhaul)

Airbus Americas Flight Training Center

American Airlines maintenance and repair for the Southeast

Apollo Aviation Group (manages aviation assets)

ATR North America (Airbus and Leonardo)

Avionica Inc. (avionics manufacturer)

George T. Baker Aviation Technical College

Barfield Inc. (aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul for Air France Industries/KLM Engineering and Maintenance)

Boeing Flight Training Services

Bombardier (maintenance and repair for Bombardier aircraft)

Embraer (aircraft manufacturing, maintenance, repair)

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Florida Memorial University Department of Aviation and Safety

HEICO Corp. (manufactures avionics and aircraft parts and components)

KLX Aerospace Solutions (distributes aerospace fasteners and hardware)

LAN Cargo maintenance

Miami Dade College EIG-Watson School of Aviation

Pan Am International Flight Academy (All Nippon Airways)

Ramjet (acquisition and sales of corporate aircraft)

Satair Group (Airbus subsidiary civil aircraft parts and management)

Sheltair Aviation Services

University of Miami School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

World Fuel Services

Source: Miami Herald research

For Miami, the idea of a commercial air show is grounded

Spectacular air shows featuring military aircraft and aerobatics are regular events in South Florida.

But efforts to set up a commercial air show in Miami-Dade, a sub-tropical version of the Paris Air Show or the Farnborough International Air Show, have so far failed to get off the ground.

International events like Paris and Farnborough combine public air shows with huge private trade exhibitions touting the latest aviation and aerospace equipment — both civilian and military — to potential buyers like commercial airlines, governments, the military, corporate clients and the wealthy.

Miami-Dade officials and local businessmen have tried to promote the idea for several years. An early plan to stage the show at the Homestead Air Reserve Base was shot down by the Pentagon in 2011. A subsequent site, the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport in the Big Cypress National Preserve, formerly the Everglades Jetport, encoutered sharp opposition from environmentalists and didn’t get off the ground.

Seeing the great expansion of aviation and aerospace business in Miami-Dade, county mayor Carlos Gimenez promoted of the idea, leading two local delegations to the Paris Air Show. After his second trip to the Paris show in 2015, the mayor told the Miami Herald editorial board that a commercial air show would need more space than was available at the Everglades airport, and indicated that Homestead would be the more appropriate site.

Since then, the show has been on standby.

Asked recently by the Herald if there were any current plans to push ahead with the event, the Miami-Dade mayor’s office responded: “Miami-Dade County is not pursuing a commercial air show at this time. Mayor Gimenez would like to revisit the possibility of hosting one in our community in the near future. However, it is not something that is being actively studied.”


‘Aviation’ and ‘aerospace’ —

what’s the difference?

Merriam Webster defines aviation as the operation of heavier-than-air aircraft, military airplanes and airplane manufacture, development, and design.

Aerospace is defined as space comprising the earth’s atmosphere and the space beyond, a physical science that deals with aerospace, and the aerospace industry.

People in business — especially those working in aviation and aerospace – see an overlap in these terms. Even though aerospace generally refers to rockets and satellites that go beyond earth’ atmosphere, many firms that called themselves aerospace companies actually work in both areas.

Airbus, for example, says it is a company devoted to aeronautics, space and related services. It designs and manufactures commercial aircraft, helicopters, military aircraft and satellites. Airbus has a large regional training facility in Miami and an affiliate (Barfield) that services Airbus commercial planes.

Hollywood-based HEICO Corp. manufactures replacement parts and electronic components for commercial aviation as well as advanced electronic equipment for spacecraft and other uses. It identifies itself as an aerospace, industrial, defense and electronics company.


If you go

Event: Wings of Change Miami 2017

What it is: Organized by IATA and The Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the conference will bring together industry experts, senior airline and airport executives, and government authorities. The goal: to discuss aviation’s largest opportunities and key challenges across Latin American and the Caribbean, with a focus on Miami’s gateway role.

When: May 2-3

Where: Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove

Cost: $250-$450



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