MIA boos: Miami International Airport is replacing its airline incentive program with a new one that has more heft

Jul. 11--ts perks to woo carriers

Miami International Airport will offer airlines new incentives, with a year of waived landing fees and other perks geared to lure more flights, boost revenue, increase competition and steer passengers away from other South Florida airports.

"We want to be able to provide at least what our competitors are offering, or better," said Miguel Southwell, Miami-Dade Aviation's assistant director for business retention and development.

The air service incentive program, which will be in place for three years, was approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday without debate.

Similar to the program it replaces, it will be capped at $3 million per year, based on a first-come, first-served basis, and will be funded through an airport improvement fund.

Tailored to MIA's market, for the first time, the program will offer incentives to all-cargo carriers in addition to passenger airlines.

Southwell said it could bear fruit soon. For years, MIA has been trying to attract international airlines that serve Africa and Asia, as well as low-cost carriers like JetBlue Airways.

"It could lead to new service by the fall, for both domestic and international service," he said.

The airport charges airlines landing fees of $2.70 per 1,000 pounds. A waiver of one year allows an airline flying a 747-400 to save $1,124.80 per daily flight, or $410,552 a year.

To qualify for the waiver of landing fees for a passenger flight in the United States or Canada, an airline must add a new year-round flight -- either a new frequency to an existing destination or new flight to a new destination.

To qualify for a waiver for an international flight, the year-round flight must be to a city previously not served by any carrier at MIA.

Additionally, the new program approved Tuesday offers various features not previously part of the airport's former program:

NEW FEATURES

--Any additional frequencies added to the new international route also will qualify for a one-year abatement.

--A carrier offering year-round international service to certain "premium markets" can receive up to $50,000 in airport matching funds to promote each new international destination.

Those markets include Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya; Lagos, Nigeria; Casablanca, Morocco; Brussels, Belgium; Dublin, Ireland; Helsinki, Finland; Moscow; Warsaw, Poland; Budapest, Hungary; Tokyo; Seoul, Korea; Hong Kong; Shanghai; Mumbai and New Delhi, India.

--A carrier offering international service seasonally (up to six months) to any of those premium markets will get a partial waiver of 25 percent for six months the first year and another six-month abatement for the second year. The carrier then must establish year-round service to get a 50 percent waiver for the third year.

--Any carrier offering year-round cargo freighter service from Asia, Africa or Europe, on a cargo route not served by an all-cargo carrier to MIA, will qualify for a 50 percent abatement of landing fees for a year. Any additional frequencies added to that route will also qualify for the abatement.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd said the vast majority of major airports offer incentive programs, and that including cargo and seasonal flights makes sense for MIA.

Airlines base their decisions to add service on market demand and route strategy, but a waiver of landing fees might help push a carrier over the brink, said Boyd, president of the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo.

"It shows that Miami is aggressive," he said. "It shows the community and mostly the business community, that they are aggressive. But it is not a dealmaker or breaker."

ORIGINAL PROGRAM

MIA offered its first incentive program in 2005, in an attempt to make the airport more competitive, boost revenue, lower fares and stem the loss of passengers to Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has also had an incentive program in place since 2000, offerring a year's waiver of landing fees, ticket counter and gate charges for service to certain target markets, including Tallahassee, Denver, San Francisco, Oakland, Western Europe, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

To date, carriers including Aeromexico, Spirit Airlines and American Airlines have benefited, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood spokesman Greg Meyer said.

In addition to the advantages for airlines, "it benefits the passengers flying in and out of our airport because it gives them a new destination," Meyer said.

MIA's previous program waived landing fees for a year for any new domestic flight and for service to an international city not currently served.

Four U.S. and two international airlines -- Alaska, Delta, AirTran, American Eagle, El Al and Avior -- earned incentives as part of that program -- which expired in May. Combined, their waived fees totaled $680,677.

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