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Feds tout infrastructure law’s aid to Miami airport construction projects

Miami International Airport received $27 million from the federal government for infrastructure projects designed to improve the passenger experience at one of the nation’s busiest airports.

The funding was announced at a Thursday ceremony at MIA: Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava welcomed Polly Trottenberg, U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary, and Shannetta Griffin, the FAA’s associate administrator for airports.

In total, Florida has received $112.5 million for projects at 10 airports under the law, the most any state received. Since 2019, Miami-Dade has collected about $465 million from the federal government, Griffin said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava with U.S. DOT, FAA and MIA officials at the airport on Thursday.

MIA

The money for the MIA projects came from two separate FAA airport infrastructure grants made possible under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The first award was for $12 million for the rehabilitation of the automated people mover (APM) that connects the lower Concourse E to the Concourse E-Satellite and aims to make sure the APM will remain secure. The project is expected to be completed late this year.

The second grant, $15 million, will be used to complete the design phase for the modernization and development of the airport’s ongoing construction at MIA’s Concourse E-H ticket counter areas, expected to be completed in early 2027.

Officials said the project will improve the passenger experience and create construction jobs.

“This is the global gateway that connects us to the entire world,” said Levine Cava. “I’m talking about our economic powerhouse, our number one economic engine in Miami-Dade County — MIA.”

She noted MIA is one of the fastest-growing airports in the country.

“This announcement today is critical not only to this airport and all the people that pass through it, but to our hometown of Miami-Dade County,” she said.

Trottenberg agreed, noting, travelers passing through as well as residents would benefit from the upgrades.

“These improvements will help people with disabilities have an easier time getting to and from their destinations. Passengers will save time and headaches with much more efficient security checkpoints,” said Trottenberg, formerly New York City’s transportation commissioner and N.Y. Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member.

“We’re excited that the local community will benefit from jobs and contracting opportunities,” she said.

Last week, county officials said recently audited reports confirmed MIA saw its highest-ever annual passenger total in 2023, handling 52.3 million travelers, a 3.2% increase from the previous year’s record.

“Notably, international travel experienced an exceptional 8.5% surge, reaching 23.2 million passengers, while domestic traffic, though slightly down by half a percent, still accounted for 29.1 million travelers,” the county said in a release.

The gain was attributed primarily to American Airlines, MIA’s hub carrier, which served 31.4 million passengers and increased its year-over-year seat capacity by 10%.

In addition, MIA saw carriers — such as Volaris El Salvador, Norse Atlantic Airways and Porter Airlines — launch service, expanding the airport’s clients to 96 passenger and cargo airlines, the highest among U.S. airports.

Cargo operations also set records at the airport in 2023, registering a 1% gain to achieve 2.78 million tons, driven by 2.2 million tons of international cargo and 548,976 tons of domestic shipments.

MIA received infrastructure and maintenance funding last year from the county’s $7 billion Capital Improvement Program and the $1.7-billion maintenance modernization plan.

“The significant investments in infrastructure and maintenance in 2023 reflect MIA’s commitment to staying at the forefront,” Levine Cava said. 

Both projects are part of the $7 billion Future Ready capital improvement program, which is making airport-wide modernizations and expansions over the next five to 15 years, and paving the way for MIA to reach a projected 77 million travelers and four million tons of freight by 2040.

Through its Modernization in Action Plan, MIA is also undergoing $1.7 billion in maintenance upgrades to elevators, escalators, moving walkways, bathrooms, and passenger boarding bridges.

The airport remains dedicated to providing economic contributions to the region, said Ralph Cutié, MIA Director and CEO.

“The collaboration between MIA, our airline partners, and the workforce ensures a bright future for MIA as a premier global gateway,” Cutié said.

MIA anticipates continued passenger growth in 2024, with American Airlines launching routes to the Bahamas and Jamaica while Condor Airlines, LEVEL and Viva Aerobus are set to debut this year.

In April, the airport will get its 40th all-cargo carrier, China Cargo Airlines, which officials say will strengthen its position as a key player in global air cargo.

On Tuesday, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a 2,240-space, seven-level parking garage. The $136-million Park 6 garage, scheduled for completion in 2026, will be located adjacent to MIA’s current Flamingo garage and will substantially increase parking availability for passengers and employees. 

MIA is America’s busiest airport for international freight and the second busiest for international passengers and offers more flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than any other U.S. airport.

It is the leading economic engine for Miami-Dade County and Florida, generating business revenue of $31.9 billion and around 60% of all international visitors to the state annually.

In 2023, Fitch Ratings upgraded $4.9 billion of aviation revenue and revenue refunding bonds issued for the county aviation department to A-plus from A and assigned a stable outlook to the credit.

“The upgrade reflects Miami International Airport’s outperformance in enplanement recovery, demonstrating the airport’s superior franchise strength,” Fitch said. “Together with its successful completion of the prior multi-billion-dollar capital plan, MIA is well positioned as it embarks on the successor capex plan.”

Fitch noted all of the airport’s debt is fixed-rate and fully amortizing with a final maturity of 2049.

“Debt service is forecast to increase to approximately $396 million without layering in any debt for the new capital plan. … Most of the debt service reserves are funded with cash and investments,” Fitch said.

In 2022, Kroll Bond Rating Agency raised its long-term rating on the county’s aviation revenue bonds to AA-minus from A-plus following an upgrade by S&P Global Ratings to A from A-minus and by Moody’s Investor Service to A1 from A2.

County residents like local control of their home ports, airports and roads.

In November 2022, voters approved a charter amendment that requires voter approval for the commissioners to transfer ownership or governing authority of Miami International Airport, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority or PortMiami.

While there was no indication the state was planning a takeover of the county’s airport or seaport, the amendment was seen as a preemptive attempt to forestall any such action.

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