Onwards and upwards at Miami International

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Onwards and upwards for Miami International
Jimmy Nares


You’re a fast growing and ambitious cargo gateway on the south eastern seaboard of the US but, with the city all around the airport, there is no new land available for expansion. What do you do?

The answer is obvious, says Jimmy Nares who, as marketing section chief at Miami-Dade Aviation Department is responsible for cargo at Florida’s Miami International Airport (MIA): build a multi-storey terminal.

With MIA approaching its on-airport cargo capacity, the Vertical Integrated Cargo Community (VICC) plan will help it keep pace with projected growth in demand for air cargo. The VICC will open in about four years and would ultimately double MIA’s cargo capacity to approximately 5.6 million US tons of cargo and would satisfy capacity demands for the next 25 years.

Multi-storey cargo terminals are not common in the US, but the concept has been used successfully in Hong Kong and VICC has in fact been patterned on that gateway’s experience, says Jimmy Nares.

He told ACW: “We have the city, housing all around us, so we can’t just purchase additional land.”

While other solutions such as satellite cargo areas were considered, “there’s no substitute for on-airport facilities and it’s what our tenants demand, as it makes logistics faster and easier.”

And cargo certainly is booming at MIA. Total throughput for 2021 finally came in at 2.74 million tons, 17% up on 2020 which was itself a record year. Heading the list of commodities handled at MIA were pharma, perishables, e-commerce and computer chips. The value of the latter moved through Miami was up over 2,000% at $4.31 billion. Pharma exports were running at over 15.36 million kilos in the year to date October 2021, compared with 10.5m kilos in October 2019.

Total trade through the gateway soared by $15bn to hit $67.5bn in 2021.

Nor is Jimmy Nares expecting 2021 to be a high water mark – all the signs are that traffic through MIA will go on rising in 2022. For instance, deliveries of the Covid vaccine to Latin America and the Caribbean –for which MIA is the pre-eminent air gateway – are due to ramp up further as the region gets to grips with the pandemic.

E-commerce is also surging.

Much of the e-commerce traffic is carried by the integrators and a couple of MIA’s largest operators, FedEx Express and DHL Express, have just completed expanding their facilities at MIA to meet growing customer demand and to strengthen their service capabilities to Central and South America, the Caribbean and worldwide. FedEx completed a $72.2 million expansion to its main sort facility, adding 138,000 square feet to bring the facility to a total of 282,000sq ft. DHL Express invested $78 million to renovate and expand its cargo hub to double volume throughput.

Perishables also did very well. Indeed, the proportion of such imports into the US handled by MIA has increased from the already impressive 60-64% of recent years to around 70%.

MIA is in one respect a rather atypical US gateway. Most of the country’s airports follow the 80-20 rule in that 80% of freight moves on bellyhold, scheduled passenger airlines with the remaining 20% in all-cargo aircraft – but at MIA these proportions are reversed, with freighters the dominant mode.

Indeed, one challenge for 2022 will be increasing the amount of freight on all-cargo aircraft operated by MIA’s 40-plus freighter carriers, given the extremely tight market situation and lack of available aircraft in this segment.

However, there are encouraging signs that bellyhold is bouncing back and could start to play a greater role, says Jimmy Nares. While direct cities served on the key Transatlantic routes to Europe, the Middle East and Africa fell to just nine in February 2021, in February 2022 the figure was back up to 19.

To take just one example, Israel’s El Al halted its direct MIA-Tel Aviv service for most of 2020 due to the pandemic but resumed service in late October 2020 and continued into 2021.  MIA-Israel trade in 2021 similarly bounced back, surging from 1.9m kilos in 2020 to just over 3m kilos in 2021.