Miami’s reach is about to grow.
Already the second-busiest airport in the country for international passengers, Miami International Airport on Monday will announce the addition of a new far-flung destination: Qatar, the oil-rich Persian Gulf state.
Starting June 1, Qatar Airways will fly four times a week between Doha and Miami. The destination will be the airline’s sixth in the U.S.
“This is huge because Qatar Airways serves a part of the world, quite frankly, that we don’t have much access to,” said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González. The airline also offers connections to Eastern Europe, India, China, Japan and other destinations Miami has been eyeing.
South Florida hasn’t had direct service to the Middle East since late 2008, when El Al cut its Miami-to-Tel Aviv route. Qatar Airways plans to use a Boeing 777-200LR that can carry about 260 passengers; officials in Miami have said they hope the airline will increase frequency beyond four times a week eventually.
The announcement comes about six months after the airline starting flying to Chicago and five months after it announced the April 2014 start of service to Philadelphia. Later this month, Qatar Airways is set to become a full member of the Oneworld alliance, which means it will coordinate routes and allow passengers to earn and redeem frequent flyer points on partnering airlines.
“Miami was a clear choice for us,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said in an email. “It’s a large international travel market, both inbound and outbound, and Qatar Airways’ membership in Oneworld gives people in the U.S. many more options for international travel.”
For Miami business and political leaders, the new air service reinforces the area’s strength as a base for doing business with emerging markets in Latin America.
“I think it shows our place as the gateway to the Americas and shows that we are rapidly becoming a global city of significant importance,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Barry Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said the new route in combination with expanded service to Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean make Miami more attractive as a global business center.
“Increasing routes like these and hopefully others to Asia and other parts of the world will further solidify the position,” Johnson said.
In recent years, Miami has seen significant investment from Asian and European real estate developers, and convenient air access is considered crucial to opening up more business and tourism opportunities.
A study by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department showed that the new flight is expected to bring 536 jobs and more than $78 million in anticipated business revenue to the county.
González, the aviation director, said he believes the route has great potential for cargo business as well.
“We expect their planes to go back with full bellies,” he said. “This is a very exciting time for us because it’s a long time coming that we were able to get an airline with their caliber and their reach.”
The 16-year-old airline has more than 250 planes on order, worth more than $50 billion. Skytrax, the airline rating and review site, gives its long haul service five stars and named Qatar Airways the “world’s best airline” in 2011 and 2012.
While Qatar is small — home to an estimated two million residents, according to the CIA World Factbook — it is also wealthy, boasting the world’s highest per-capita income.
William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Miami is eager to welcome “high-end visitors” who might want to visit to start a business, take a luxury vacation or host upscale meetings. At a dinner earlier this year with representatives from the Miami-Dade business community and the airline, Talbert said much of the discussion focused on luxury travel and Miami’s assets.
He said the bureau and the airport are busy selling the destination to other airlines as well.
“This is not the only one — it’s the first, and what a sweet one,” he said.
González said he has trips planned in the near future to Japan, Israel, Turkey and South Africa with the goal of establishing more international routes.
“It’s a lot of cultivation, a lot of handshaking, a lot of business,” he said. “You establish the relationships first and they do the math.”