Jan. 8, 2003

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.

To ease access to contracts and to open the system to more parties, Gittens has installed a "hybrid" tendering process. "The issue was bidding out, or tendering, for the concessions," she explains.

"The one thing about bids is it's typically cheaper, which is another reason to push invitations to bid for smaller leases. You just have to put together your paperwork; in a proposal you have to submit ideas and spend money up front for conceptual design, and to get someone to write your narrative. With a bid, there are less up front costs.

" We have to do a lot of outreach to let people know we really mean this."

The larger portion of future concessions will be done by way of an RFP, Gittens says, relating that an invitation to bid where price is the only criterion introduces discipline into the selection process.

Says Gittens, "Miami needs to get back into the concession market; the retail concession market. We've been out of the market for many years. T h e r e 's a perception, rightly or wrongl y, that you have to be connected and pay thousands of dollars to lobbyists to garner a concession. We need to interrupt that perception. An invitation to bid is one way of doing it, in a small w a y, just to show that we are open, and open for business, that we can handle a transparent process, that the top bidder can actually be the one that gets the contract. We're going through that process now. "

BEYOND THE POLITICS Looking past the political issues, Gittens is faced with directing a nearly $5 billion capital improvement program that will result in a fourth runw a y, new control tower, long-needed road infrastructure in and around the airport, vastly expanded cargo, and a larger and more congruent passenger terminal complex - all phased in through 2007.

Recognizing that nearby Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood has captured much of the region's domestic traffic, Gittens says MIA's target is really international. Competition for that traffic is growing, particularly at a time when most airports are desperately seeking new revenue, she says.

"I don't think that sufficient attention has been paid to the fact that Delta in Atlanta and Continental in Houston have really challenged that market and have been aggressive," says Gittens. Despite more competition and sluggish economies in South America, Gittens remains optimistic about the long-term prospects for MIA. Yet, she says that the airport's budgeting and CIP plan are conserv atively based on projections that pre- 9/11 traffic levels won't return until 2006 .

" We have stretched out that recove ry period to 2006 because aviation lags economic recovery, and the Latin America market and economy lag behind the U.S.," she explains.

" We're ahead of schedule, but we are concerned because we are a network carrier airport, not a low fare carrier airport. We're almost half international and we have the majors; that's the kind of price level that we've predicated our financial capacity upon. As we look ahead, we will need to adjust our business model to theirs because t h a t 's who we serve. It's not an easy thing to do because they haven't written theirs yet."

Angela Gittens on Security, TSA

As of January 1, Miami International Airport is meeting its screening requirements via a mix of ETD and CTX machines, as well as other means, says a TSA spokesperson. Some 2,100 screeners are in place. Regarding TSA and the security process, MIA director Angela Gittens says ...

• "They have got to find a funding source for security. Much of what we are doing are really issues of national security, not aviation security. So, TSA needs to have a pool of funds for security projects, and that has to be set up in tandem with what has been set up with FAA for AIP [Airport Improvement Program]. " You can’t expect the Trust Fund to be a national security trust fund."

• "The [Trust Fund] money is supposed to be used based on the needs of the system, and the needs of the system are driven by demand. But if you continue to siphon off funds for national security objectives, then you’ve gotten it out of balance. "You can have one passenger and you still have to spend all this money for security. The level for security is not one-to-one driven by the demand of the system, whereas for facilities it is; for runways, it is."

• I can’t quibble with what they’ve done to date because you just have to deal with what you’ve got. But the TSA will be with us forever, so it needs to be put on a sustained basis so that it can undertake its obligations long term. You can’t just expect it to suckle from the AIP teat."

A $4.8 Billion Capital Improvement Program

The Miami International Airport CIP, originally projected at $5.4 billion, has been cut to $4.8 bil lion, but still represents a basic rebuilding of one of the world’s busiest airports for both passengers and cargo. And it continues to serve as the major gateway to Latin America. Some of the highlights of the MIA World Gateway Program ...

• A new 333-ft. tall air traffic control tower, commissioned Dec. 8, built to withstand up to 150 mph winds. It is the nation’s second tallest ATC tower, after Orlando’s new 345-ft. tower.

• An $833 million South Terminal Program, set for completion in 2007, will add 1.3 million square feet of space.

• The North Terminal Development project will create a new 47-gate linear Concourse A-D and add 1.8 million square feet of new space, 1.7 million square feet of renovated space.

• A $150 million fourth (8,600- ft.) runway, scheduled for completion in mid-2003. Expected to increase field airfield capacity by 22 percent .

• Automated laser baggage sort system .

• A $60 million Central Chiller Plant Expansion Project to supportthe North, South terminals. • A new $5.2 million Northside Fire Station, completed in 2001. A $9 million midfield ARFF facility is also under construction.

• $42.4 million in roadway infrastructure already completed as part of the overall Ground Transportation Improvement Program. In addition, a $26.3 million Central Collection Plaza will service two parking garage systems with entry/exit lanes and booths.

• A new $7.9 million General Aviation Center, which also houses U.S. Customs and immigration agents .

• Major cargo expansion that encompasses nearly 3 million square feet of handling facilities. A $500 million project including 15 new cargo buildings and expansion of airline cargo warehouse space to 2.3 million square feet.