MIA Leading in U.S. International Air Freight

Miami International Airport, the air freight gateway for Latin America and the Caribbean, imported and exported nearly one million tons of cargo during 2004, a double-digit increase after two lackluster years.

The airport handled 82 percent of all air imports and 77 percent of all air exports between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean last year.

Including in-transit, or in-bond freight, brings MIA's total to 1.6 million tons, making it the leading U.S. airport for international freight, ahead of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, which shipped 1.3 million tons, and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which handled 1.12 million tons in 2004.

Excluding in-transit goods, which are destined for other countries, Miami International Airport's international freight grew to 913,560 tons, a jump of 11 percent in weight over 2003.

Chris Mangos, MIA marketing manager, said that the airport is holding its own against other airports vying for the same cargo business. ''In view of the competition, the performance is strong for us,'' he said.

Miami dominates the air freight trade with Latin America because it is the closest point to South America and much of the Caribbean Basin. Though air cargo is the most expensive way to ship goods, it is the only way to transport perishable flowers, seafood, fruits and vegetables from countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Costa Rica.

Both the weight and the value of air cargo rose 11 percent from 2003 to 2004, according to the airport statistics, which were culled from Commerce Department trade numbers.

In 2003, the weight rose 3 percent and value rose 8 percent, while in 2002, the weight rose 2 percent, while the value dropped 6 percent. Mangos said that economic problems in Argentina and Brazil in 2002 caused a sharp drop in high-value electronic and telecommunications equipment.

During 2004, Miami International Airport increased its share of perishable good imports, handling 69 percent of all U.S. air imports in this category compared to 66 percent the year before. Fish and seafood imports stayed the same with 66 percent of all air imports handled by MIA.

The airport increased its share of all fresh cut flower imports from 87 percent to 88 percent, while boosting fruit and vegetable air imports form 52 percent to 55 percent.

While Colombia ships the most air cargo by total weight -- mainly due to the fresh-cut flower business, Brazil trades the largest amount of air cargo by value.

For air exports, computers, telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery and oil and gas drilling machinery comprise the four largest categories by value.