Fall 2001 – Airport official updates BHA on security, noise issues

While always her top concern, safety and security now overshadow all other priorities for Miami International Airport Director Angela Gittens, senior staffer Miguel Southwell reported to BHA Directors at their October meeting.

“The public has to have the confidence to travel,” Mr. Southwell said, “We have to provide that confidence.”

Mr. Southwell, who worked with Director Gittens at the Atlanta airport before she recruited him to follow her to Miami as Assistant Director in charge of Business Development, substituted for his boss to appear before Brickell Homeowners’ montly meeting. The long-awaited presentation was going to be all about airport noise abatement, which understandably took a back seat to security concerns after September 11th.

“We don’t know if people will tolerate these long security waits,” Mr. Southwell said, “but right now we don’t care as we have to be secure.”

Other governing principles under which Ms. Gittens operates the airport, he said, include economic vitality, customer service and the final one that’s been the contentious issue in Miami for so many years, environmental responsibility.

Economic Engine

“The airport has to be self-sustaining,” he said. “When you consider that the parking fees alone generated in one year in Atlanta, for example, are $100,000,000, you’re talking a lot of cash.”

Indeed, airports are the economic engines of a community, and the new leadership at MIA is intent on marketing the airport to new international airlines. They’ve identified roughly two dozen nations around the world that could link to MIA, with each new linkage worth about $2 million a year for the Miami community in terms of new business generated.

For instance, if Miami is linked to Hong Kong, Mr. Southwell explained, in just nine months’ time that level of economic impact is achieved with business between the two cities greatly facilitated by the airport connection.

Even in our global economy, there’s nothing like really being there, apparently.

Friendly Skies?

And then, once those international flyers are here, the next critical component of a successful airport operation is tested: customer service.

“We believe that the airport makes the first impression of the city,” Mr. Southwell said. “The immigration officer is the first line of defense – and hospitality – for the City.”

The challenge is how to balance policing with hospitality. Volunteers are under consideration as customer service reps, as well as logical improvements to the environment of the airport to make it more customer-friendly.

We don’t want to hear it

Economic vitality and courtesy to support South Florida’s vital tourism industry are important to Brickell neighbors, but perhaps hard to appreciate with the airplane noise overhead throughout the day. Aside from the disturbance of noise pollution, President Jacobs explained, people have to literally stop business as planes pass overhead. It’s more than annoying, it’s unprofitable.

It’s hard to fathom that MIA doesn’t have a noise abatement program in place, especially when one learns that other communities have successfully addressed the issue. When residents hear that the Atlanta airport spent $326 million on their noise program, it becomes even harder to understand what’s wrong in here. No noise abatement program in Miami seemed a surprise to Mr. Southwell as well, who is trying to identify what the problem is that has kept us lagging behind.

In communities where airport building expansions have been delayed, it has been because of public outcry against airports’ lack of responsiveness to the concerns of the community around and below, he said.

“If airport authorities and communities band together, the FAA has go along,” Mr. Southwell said.

Many BHA Directors who have been in numerous meetings with airport staffers, local elected officials and hoards of dissatisfied citizens say that they believe the problem is with airport management and foreign airline company pilots who don’t want to do what it takes, and usually costs more, to be responsive to the community.

They have to achieve steeper altitudes faster, which takes more fuel, and they have to adhere to take-off and landing tracks rather than the “spaghetti” patterns they are currently allowed to follow, BHA Director Mel Frankel said.

Until that happens among those in charge at MIA, the FAA won’t solve our problems, it seems. With the new leadership here in Miami with Angela Gittens and her staff, BHA officials have some new hope.

Naturally, you’ll be hearing more on this…

From BHA News, Fall Elections Issue 2001, Vol. XI, No. 3