MIAMI — In September 1989, American Airlines made a bold decision to transform its small operation in Miami into a major hub and international gateway. At the time, Eastern Airlines and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) were the main carriers at Miami International Airport (MIA), especially when it came to connecting South Florida to Latin America and the Caribbean. Eastern had taken over the Latin American operations of bankrupt Braniff in 1982. However, Eastern and Pan Am both collapsed in January and December 1991 respectively. American bought Eastern’s Latin American routes in 1989, while United bought those of Pan Am in 1991. American was founded in 1926, but had not served MIA until it started a modest presence there in 1979. Finally, financial troubles contributed to United closing its MIA to Latin American service in 2002, leaving American alone at the top.
American’s Operations at MIA
As American celebrates the 25th anniversary of its MIA expansion, the airline boasts 339 flights per day that connect MIA to 123 destinations around the world — more than 100 of them not served by any other domestic carrier at the airport. This makes American the top US airline serving Latin America, with more flights than any other carrier. In addition to service to cities in the U.S. and Latin America, American also serves Europe with flights to Barcelona, London, Madrid, and Paris and Canada with flights to Montreal and Toronto. American’s service today is larger than the combined service of Eastern and Pan Am at their peak of operations at MIA. Before taking over for Eastern, American had a modest operation consisting of only 19 flights per day at MIA.
In an airport press release this week, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio Gonzales congratulated American on its milestone. Mayor Gimenez said, “American Airlines is without a doubt one of the community partners that has had the greatest impact on our local economy. AA is responsible for nearly 70 percent of the flights at our top economic engine, a vast route network drawing leisure, and business travelers to our region from around the globe, and more than 11,000 employees in its Miami hub operations — they have truly helped build Miami into a world-class city like none other. On behalf of the residents of Miami-Dade Country, it’s my pleasure to congratulate our partners at American on the 25th anniversary of their Miami hub. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our community.” Aviation Director Gonzales remarked, “I proudly congratulate American Airlines on its 25th anniversary of establishing Miami International Airport as its hub for Latin America and the Caribbean. Since its decision in 1989 to build a gateway to the Americas at MIA, American has expanded from 19 daily flights to more than 340 this year — an all-time record. The partnership between American and MIA has truly been a match made in heaven – service between MIA and 121 destinations around the world and more than 27 million annual passengers, all served by MIA’s award-winning North Terminal. As MIA closes in on another record-setting year for passenger traffic and American continues their expansion at MIA with new routes like Cap-Haitien, and Campinas, Brazil in the coming months, I offer my deepest congratulations and thanks to the American Airlines Miami hub team for 25 groundbreaking years and more to come.”
The North Terminal (Concourse D)
Today, American operates from MIA’s state-of-the art North Terminal (AKA: Concourse D). In 1989, this area consisted of three “finger” terminals designated as Concourses B, C, and D. MIA added Concourse A in 1998. As American’s presence grew, so did the need for significant expansion and modernization of its facilities. The transformation of Concourses A to D into the North Terminal began in 1998 and was supposed to be completed in 2005, but the project faced many delays because of cost overruns. Furthermore, the Miami-Dade Country Aviation Department took over the project from American Airlines during a tense time that involved major legal action between the county and the airline stemming from the delays and higher costs that resulted in a five-year delay. By August 2010, all gates and extensions to the building were finished. A new international arrivals facility opened August 2012, and three more gates opened in August 2013. The official completion of the North Terminal project was in February 2014 with the opening of the baggage handling system’s international-to-domestic transfer.
The result is a 3.6 million square foot linear facility that absorbed Concourses A and D, while B and C were demolished. The new terminal, designed by Corgan Associates, Anthony C. Baker Architects and Panners, Perez & Perez, and Leo A. Daly, measures 1.2 miles in length and consists of 45 gates designated D1 to D12, D12 to D17, D19 to D25, D29 to D33, D37 to D40, D42 to D51, D53, D55, and D60. The facility handles 20 million passengers annually. American has two Admirals Clubs, one by D15 and the other by D30. American Eagle uses the ground-level gates D53, D55, and D60 located on the westernmost side of the terminal. A people mover known as “Skytrain” opened in September 2010 to facilitate the movement of passengers from one end of the terminal to the other, and it has four stops at gates D17, D24, D29, and D46. Despite the enormous size of the North Terminal, American’s operations still overflow to the older Concourse E, which can be reached from the North Terminal via a connecting walkway.
King at MIA
American emerged from bankruptcy with a new look and merged with US Airways in early 2013 to form American Airlines CEO Doug Parker reintroduced the “banking” of American’s hubs in August 2013, starting with MIA. Prior to the merger, the old management used the” rolling” system, which had been established after the 9/11 attacks, for its hub operations in order to minimize costs during this financially difficult period. The re-banking of movements means many flights will land within a narrow time period, and take-off within a similar narrow time window. The goal is to maximize connections, as well as increase revenue. The only risk that comes with banking MIA is the heavy afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months. Regardless, American’s dominant position at MIA is very likely to remain unchallenged, especially with no competitor present to match the scope of Latin American operations.