More than a modernization

MIA’s $6.3 billion capital improvement program nears completion

The South Terminal

Opened in 2007, MIA’s $1.1 billion South Terminal is a 1.7 million-square foot facility that exhibits sleek architectural designs incorporating vaulted ceilings, tall windows, natural lighting, and an impressive collection of Florida-themed artwork coordinated by Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places (APP) Department (1.5 percent of all new county construction is awarded to APP).

The terminal features a new 15-gate Concourse J and a renovated 13-gate Concourse H that serve 20 domestic and international airlines.

The facility boasts some 59,000 square feet of concession space, including an 8,900 square foot food pavilion and a 1,000 foot long concession hall for 61 dining, retail, and duty-free stores. In terms of location, “90 percent of our concessions are situated post-security in both the North and South Terminals,” says Abreu.

With regard to security, the South Terminal houses a new Federal Inspection Service area that can process 2,000 international passengers per hour, and a new baggage screening system with four miles of conveyor belts that can screen and transport 4,000 bags per hour, relates Abreu.

The check-in area features 168 ticket counters and some 1,000 feet of new curbside drop-off and pick-up space. A new cruise and tour bus station can also be found in the South Terminal, with 22 airline ticket counters for shuttle service to and from the Port of Miami.

The North Terminal

Still under construction, the $2.8 billion North Terminal has had a convoluted history, says Abreu. It was conceived around 1996 and was overseen by American Airlines originally. The North Terminal is dedicated entirely to American and its oneworld alliance partners.

“American has the biggest market share at MIA by far; along with American Eagle [a regional affiliate of AA] it has close to 70 percent market share,” explains Abreu. “For various reasons, in 2005 ... two weeks before I arrived, the county assumed control. We had to do a constructability review and finish the plans, which weren’t even 30 percent complete.”

Abreu describes building the North Terminal as akin to re-tiling a bathroom while taking a shower. “I made a tough decision, totally as a civil engineer and not as an airport director, to close concourse A [16 gates], which was our newest concourse back then, because it was really tough to maintain the traffic from concourse A to the baggage claim area while also constructing the terminal,” he says.

“The corridor for domestic passengers in between the baggage claim and Concourse A would have to have been moved completely during the time of construction a total of 24 times; a total of 60 times if you count the modifications on either end — just to facilitate the efficient movement of passengers.

“We would’ve been moving hallways for a net time span of two years; when would we have time to build the rest of this thing?”
Adds Abreu, “That decision saved us two to three years and $200-300 million.”

When asked why the decision was made to expand as opposed to build new, Abreu relates, “It was evident that American had a large share of the business here, and if you look at the airport, 40 percent of the total traffic at MIA is connecting. So the North Terminal’s position in the airfield was absolutely paramount ... and the fact that the hangar where American does its maintenance needed to be close by played a role in the decision as well.”

The airport was designed in the 1950s. The concourses (A-G) emulated a hand’s fingers — and operators could only push or pull one aircraft at a time in the spaces between the concourses, explains Abreu. “Now with four runways, we have an airfield capacity for more than 70 million passengers; the idea was to get rid of concourses B and C, and position A-D in a linear fashion, add a set of dual taxiways, and have the ability to pull 20 aircraft at once without interfering with aircraft leaving the gate area.

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