Business Monday

Thanks to Brazil, Fort Lauderdale airport is a national leader in aircraft imports

South Florida’s trade with Brazil – our No. 1 trade partner for more than two decades – is down slightly through July, according to WorldCity’s analysis of the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. But it’s up in one key area: imports, which are running 23.86 percent above the total of the same period in 2013.

More specifically, those imports are largely aircraft – up 121.41 percent from Brazil alone. As the sixth largest overall import into South Florida by dollar volume, the aircraft category is critical.

Those aircraft are largely touching down at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has its U.S. headquarters.

Embraer, with 2013 revenues of $5.7 billion, is one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, trailing the two larger players, U.S.-owned Boeing and the France-headquartered multinational Airbus. It competes most closely with the Canadian manufacturer Bombardier, which also has a South Florida presence.

Embraer and Bombardier are largely known for manufacturing smaller “regional jets,” which generally have 70 to 130 seats, though the Canadian manufacturer recently has signaled it will shift to larger, commercial airlines to compete with Boeing and Airbus. That’s good news for Embraer, which is booking strong future orders for its aircraft, according to recent press reports, and whose stock is running at or near record highs.

This is also good for South Florida generally and, specifically, for Fort Lauderdale’s airport, which last week opened an additional runway.

FLL doesn’t get a lot of attention when the discussion is South Florida’s import-export trade. It plays a relatively marginal role, generally dwarfed by its neighbor to the south, Miami International Airport, one of the nation's leading freight-handling airports, and the two large seaports, PortMiami and Port Everglades.

Fort Lauderdale’s airport has accounted for just 3.26 percent of all imports into the South Florida Customs districts this year, while MIA has accounted for 46.79 percent, Port Everglades 25.28 percent and Port Miami 23.69 percent. And that 3.26 percent is the highest percentage since 2008. During the first seven months of 2010 and 2011, the airport’s share had dipped below 1 percent.

FLL ranks No. 126 among the nation's roughly 475 airports, seaports and border crossings dollar value of import/export trade, according to WorldCity July year-to-date data, while MIA ranks No. 17. Port Everglades ranks No. 34 and PortMiami No. 41.

But when it comes to aircraft imports into the South Florida Customs district, Fort Lauderdale International Airport has accounted for at least 90 percent of the South Florida’s aircraft imports for nine of the last 11 years.

Aircraft imports are important to South Florida’s trade, ranking No. 6 behind gold, gasoline, computer chips, cell phone and returned exports, respectively. With gold and computer chips in the dumps, as detailed in a previous column, the bump in aircraft imports is helpful. Overall, imports into South Florida are down 3.98 percent so far this year, to $29.37 billion, while exports are down 6.19 percent to $37.18 billion.

Aircraft imports into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and the overall South Florida Customs district, while increasing at an accelerated pace in 2014, are not at record levels. Still, through July of this year, aircraft accounted for 86.07 percent of all imports through FLL – $878.45 million of the $1.02 billion total. From 2003 through 2008, they had accounted for at least 97.70 percent of the value.

While the majority of those imports were flying north from Brazil — $684.45 million so far this year – the airport also received $170 million from France and $17.70 million from Canada.

With its aircraft imports up strongly in 2014, FLL is the nation’s fourth most important airport for these imports. (Aircraft tend to enter the country by flying in, since they can, though some enter via ship.) The top two ports of entry are Canadian neighbors: Bangor, Maine, and Burlington, Vt. Ranked No. 3 is the airport in Little Rock, Ark., where the French company Dassault Falcon has operations.

Riding on the strength of the Brazilian surge, Fort Lauderdale increased its market share of all U.S. aircraft imports to 9.64 percent of the total, up from 7.56 percent through July of 2013. That is the highest total since the first seven months of 2008. Bangor accounted for 20.68 percent, Burlington 16.23 percent and Little Rock 11.88 percent.

Not surprisingly, South Florida dominates Brazilian aircraft imports. Through the first seven months of 2014, South Florida was responsible for 73.11 percent of all aircraft imports from Brazil, the highest percentage since 2005, when 99.91 percent entered here. In 2014, Puerto Rico has jumped into second place, with 19.89 percent of all Brazilian aircraft imports.

The reason that Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood accounts for just 9.64 percent of all U.S. imports, while dominating the Brazilian import market, is because Brazil is a relatively small market when compared to France, Canada and even Germany.

Through the first seven months of 2014, Brazil accounted for 10.27 percent of all aircraft imports into the United States, a relatively small percentage when compared to France, at 35.70 percent, Canada at 28.44 and Germany, at 18.25 percent.

But, just as Fort Lauderdale is capturing a larger percentage of these U.S. imports, so too is Brazil growing in relative importance. After five consecutive years with Brazil capturing less than 10 percent of all imports, in 2014 it has been above that threshold, ending July at 10.27 percent. In 2008, it captured a record 17.23 percent.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood doesn't have the muscle of Miami International, nor does it have the volume of trade at PortMiami and Port Everglades. But, when it comes to aircraft imports, Fort Lauderdale is flying high.

Ken Roberts is the founder and president of WorldCity, which focuses on the impact of global trade on local communities through a series of TradeNumbers publications and a website updated monthly with more than 4,000 pages and 8,000 interactive maps.

Imports of aircraft by port of entry


July 2014 YTD

1-year change

1-year change

10-year change

10-year change

Change in rank from 2013

July 2014 YTD

All Ports

$ 9,114,340,609

$ 1,783,646,932


$ 2,878,998,460




Bangor (Maine) International Airport

$ 1,885,022,554

$ 701,848,407


$ 1,305,280,393




Burlington (Vt.) International Airport

$ 1,479,088,411

$ (39,371,842)


$ 243,061,539




Little Rock (Ark.) International Airport

$ 1,082,500,000

$ (12,750,000)


$ 899,050,000




Fort Lauderdale International Airport

$ 878,450,309

$ 324,544,201


$ (280,002,233)




Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

$ 509,864,080

$ 504,864,080


$ 509,864,080




Charlotte (N.C.) International Airport

$ 454,956,670

$ 230,178,912


$ 454,956,670




Hartford (Ct.) International Airport

$ 388,736,886

$ 254,359,155


$ 379,922,886




Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

$ 386,899,328

$ 386,817,343


$ 2,716,964




Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

$ 298,911,283

$ 120,220,332


$ 80,696,088




Portland (Maine) International Jetport

$ 224,786,025

$ 167,162,656


$ 224,786,025




San Juan International Airport

$ 212,792,758

$ 212,792,758


$ 212,792,758




Huntsville (Ala.) International Airport

$ 144,627,163

$ (56,844,298)


$ 144,627,163




Denver International Airport

$ 118,567,595

$ 27,855,095


$ 29,661,816




Los Angeles International Airport

$ 102,762,665

$ (343,810,089)


$ 102,120,553




Tucson (Ariz.) International Airport

$ 75,280,000

$ (21,147,125)


$ (102,556,214)


Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data