By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
MIAMI — Recent headlines in The Miami Herald give an indication of the challenges aviation system director Angela Gittens faces, over and above the task of rebuilding one of the world ’s busiest airports. They also reflect why she’s here in the first place. Her management experience is vital for directing one of the major airport redevelopment efforts in the U.S., while her political savvy and direct approach are helping create a more open business environment while trying to erase a reputation of catering to insider interests.
One such headline, "Airport restaurant contract scrutinized," reported on a Herald investigation which it said revealed that food and beverage master concessionaire Host Marriott Services Corporation had paid political insiders as much as $1.7 million to "skirt federal laws on minority hiring at airports." State and federal examiners were reportedly investigating the charges.
As with many communities, the airport is under constant media scrutiny and often negative political charges. In this case, however, the airport director is often portrayed in a positive light. There appears to be consensus in the thought that she will be able to see the airport through its rebuilding, but perhaps more importantly to dig it out of the political trench it has been in for some time. Gittens previously directed Atlanta Hartsfield, another high profile facility, and has private sector experience at TBI Airport Management .
Gittens readily admits that the concessions opportunities at MIA prior to her arrival were pretty much seen as a closed door to those who were not politically connected locally. " That's correct," she says.
" We're in the process of trying to change that. I can't change perception except with facts, but I can't change the facts until I can deal with the perception. I need companies to participate, people who will actually see that it plays out that way for the perception to change."
In the final analysis, she explains, t 's an issue of trust.
"Bidding, whether it's an invitation to bid or a request for proposals, is expensive," she says. "There's a certain amount of money involved in putting a bid or proposal together.
"A company's not going to do it if they think they're going to have to pay a lobbyist, or that whatever time and money they are spending is a waste if they don't pay a lobbyist or aren't conn ected . "
Gittens, who took over as MIA's director in March, 2001, says her original perceptions of the airport were partially formed as a user through the years. She relates that MIA had long been viewed as a premier airport, as one of the leaders.
"My perception was that it had lost that lead," she explains. "It gave the impression of being an airport whose owners didn't care that much about it. I've been pleasantly surprised to find that its owners do care a great deal about it, but to some extent have taken it for granted and have not understood that some of the decisions it has made, or failed to make, have hurt the airport .
"The airport is in a much more competitive environment than it had been 15 years ago, but it was still being regarded the same as it was 15 years ago." The most visible element of that new competitive environment is just 30 miles to the north - Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, which has overtaken MIA for domestic traffic counts, ala the Southwest effect.
ALTERING THE BID PROCESS
Explains MIA director of public affairs Lauren Stover, "One of the other things that Ms. Gittens is doing is an outreach for minorities, to get them involved and to help them to learn how they can get a concession at the airport . . . "
Gittens completes the thought, "... and to have trust."
Gittens readily admits that the concessions opportunities at MIA prior to her arrival were pretty much seen as a closed door to those who were not politically connected locally.
The federal government has agreed to reimburse Miami International Airport $20 million for electronic baggage screening technology.
Jose Abreu, currently the state's secretary of transportation, has been picked as Miami-Dade's aviation director.