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Op-ed by Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González

By Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González
March 20, 2014

or many years, MIA has been suffering from chronic U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under staffing, routinely resulting in long wait times for arriving international passengers, missed connections, delayed processing of international perishable cargo, and the inability to provide quality customer service; all resulting in lost economic benefits so important to Miami-Dade County’s economy. Over the past five years, MIA’s international passenger traffic has grown 24.2 percent, more than any other U.S. international gateway, yet overall CBP head count at MIA has essentially remained flat. We continue to receive frequent complaints from passengers about the long wait times and missed flights as they unfortunately often indicate they will no longer travel to or through MIA in the future.

To put this impact in perspective, Miami International Airport is the number one economic engine for the State of Florida, contributing $33 billion and 272,000 direct and indirect jobs to our local economy. We are the 2nd
largest international gateway in the Country with nearly 20 million international passengers and the largest international hub in the State of Florida accounting for 69% of all international passengers arriving in the State. More importantly, we continue to experience unprecedented growth in domestic and international travel markets. However, without an increase in CBP staffing this growth is jeopardized.

Congress recently appropriated new resources to hire 2,000 additional CBP officers in the FY14 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill with the understanding that these officers are to be allocated based on traffic volumes and wait times. I am urging CBP to provide MIA our fair share of the new officers. With no concomitant increase in CPB staffing, we have added seven new international carriers in 2012 and 2013, as well as eight new international routes by our hub carrier American Airlines in that same time period. In 2014, there are three confirmed new international airlines starting service at MIA and there are discussions with eleven airlines for new international service.

Of particular note, airline industry leader Qatar Airways will soon begin four weekly nonstop flights to MIA from Doha, Qatar. Doha is one of the top hubs in the Middle East, and is currently the fastest-growing region in the world for air travel. We estimate that the new service by Qatar Airways will generate 536 jobs and $78.3 million in projected business revenue within Miami-Dade County. Qatar Airways decision to include Miami among its handful of U.S. destinations continues to confirm Miami-Dade County as a global center for business and tourism travel, and MIA as one of the premier airports in the world and a critical leader in the National Travel and Tourism Strategy of expanding travel to and within the U.S. and attracting more than 100 million international visitors annually by 2021 that are projected to spend an estimated $250 billion per year, creating jobs and spurring economic growth across the country.

More than any other international gateway airport, we have unilaterally taken steps, invested significant resources and increased personnel to support CBP in an effort to reduce congestion and wait times. We are one of the three airports to take advantage of the new authority granted to CBP to enter into reimbursable agreements with airports for overtime and have agreed to commit $6M to the program over the next five years. Although this is not a permanent solution, we hope it is a step forward in mitigating CBP staffing levels, especially as we enter the busy holiday travel period and as MIA serves as the international gateway to the World Cup in Brazil. Additionally, to further ease CBP staffing shortfall, MIA recently launched Passport Express in our North Terminal Federal Inspection Facility (FIS). We purchased 36 automated passport-control kiosks at a cost of $3.5 million that will provide relief to CBP officers to process more non U.S. citizens, making the arrival process more efficient for all passengers entering the country at MIA. We have since ordered an additional 36 kiosks at a further cost of $3.5 million for our South Terminal FIS operation. We have also increased our staffing by 14, to support the kiosk operations. Although we have seen slight improvements in wait times, without an increase in CPB staffing, these measures are proving inadequate, particularly during peak hours.

While I recognize CBP’s critical mission of protecting our country while facilitating legitimate trade and travel, staffing at MIA continues to fall short in keeping up with South Florida’s increased demands of trade and travel. Despite the efforts we have taken to mitigate the CPB shortfall, the current situation of CPB staffing is simply inadequate and no longer sustainable. CBP has been a great partner in finding temporary solutions and working closely with MIA, and I look forward to CBP’s assistance in providing a more permanent solution as it allocates the 2,000 additional officers.

Members of the Miami-Dade Congressional Delegation letter to Jeh Johnson, Secretary, U. S. Department of Homeland Security

Higher resolution versions are available at:
Congressional Delegation letter Page 1
Congressional Delegation letter Page 1

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Written by
Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González

Emilio T. González, Ph.D., is the Director of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. He directs the operations at Miami International Airport (MIA) and four general aviation (GA) airports in the Miami area. MIA handles more than 39 million passengers and two million tons of cargo annually, and is among the nation’s busiest international passenger and cargo airports. Dr. González is overseeing the completion of one of the largest airport expansion programs in the U.S., a $6.5-billion capital improvement program that has added new terminals, roadways and other infrastructure to MIA and the County’s GA airports. Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González Bio

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