Sun shines for Florida freight

  • January 31, 2014

Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Aviation Department.


Miami routinely garners the most attention when it comes to airfreight in Florida.

But the often-overlooked fact is that 11 percent of the U.S.’s air cargo travels through Florida – and not just Miami International Airport – says Tony Carvajal, executive vice president for the Florida Chamber Foundation. Seven airports in the state besides Miami have scheduled air cargo activity.

“Most people don’t see that, not only because we have this very large airport down in the south part of Florida, MIA, but a lot of the goods that move in and out of Florida, because of their nature being high-value and small products, actually go in the belly of planes,” Carvajal says.

Air cargo possibilities are blossoming across Florida. There is projected logistics job growth, a new cargo airline in Orlando and new Middle East service at MIA, not to mention new MIA routes to Latin America and Europe and a new American Airlines Cargo service at Orlando International Airport.

In an effort to draw more international trade to the Sunshine State, airfreight continues to rise in importance throughout Florida.

The Florida Chamber Foundation, the research arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, identified a potential of 150,000 new trade and logistics jobs that can be created over the next five years, according to the foundation’s Florida Trade and Logistics Study released in October 2013.

“The bottom line is we know that Florida’s trade is growing. Florida’s tourism continues on a very positive path. We have a record year [in 2013],” Carvajal says.

Industries such as air, seaports and rails will share those 150,000 jobs, he says.

“Our advanced manufacturing particularly is growing, and all those point to more cargo leaving the state of Florida,” he says. “As you look at the global growth as well, the demand for the goods that we’re producing or exporting from Florida is also growing, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The main commodities that move in and out of Florida are perishables and high-tech products.

Florida has a strong aviation industry because in addition to the state’s 20 million residents, it receives about 90 million annual visitors.

“Those people that move in and out of the state use a lot of different modalities, but well over half of them come in on planes and leave on planes,” Carvajal says. “Those passenger planes are often full of not only tourists but goods that we stick in the bellies.”

Some companies outside the state see the draw of Florida. National Air Cargo and its subsidiary, National Airlines, relocated its headquarters from Michigan to Orlando.

Glen Joerger, president of National Airlines, says the airline did an extensive search across many states, looking at factors such as infrastructure, quality of potential employees, overall aviation activity, business friendliness and especially tax benefits.

“[Florida] Gov. [Rick] Scott is very aggressive. They have both Enterprise Florida and Space Coast Florida, which are two entities under the state of Florida, which aggressively and actively recruit companies in the aviation sector and the aeronautics sector,” Joerger says. “So they have a good infrastructure by which they try to recruit companies to come to Florida.”

Joerger says Orlando provides a lot of passenger connectivity in addition to cargo.

MIA also continues to reap new airfreight business. Though the cargo industry knows MIA for its network to Latin America, the airport recently gained connectivity to Doha, Qatar. The Qatar Airways service of four weekly nonstop flights will begin June 10.

“We were very much interested in the dynamics of what’s happening in the Middle East between nations like Qatar and United Arab Emirates – that core area where you have just explosive growth both in travel and in trade,” says Chris Mangos, director of marketing at Miami-Dade Aviation Department.

Mangos says the airport worked with Qatar Airways for 14 months on the project. Though it’s a passenger service, cargo makes up a large component, he says.

From 2008 to 2013, the cargo volume between the Middle East and MIA grew 79 percent. The value of the goods ballooned 520 percent during the five-year period.

Qatar’s Doha-India route also proves significant, Mangos says.

“India is another market that has been growing both in passengers and cargo for us by leaps and bounds,” he says. “We wanted a more direct [route]. That’s why we were also looking at the Middle East also with a carrier that would be able to serve from that hub multiple destinations within India itself.”

The Middle East remains primarily an export market for MIA, but for India, the reverse is true.

“It sort of balances out the payload, if you will, that is available on this aircraft,” Mangos says.

Joerger says Florida has good infrastructure for the air cargo industry to build upon. The state is a gateway to Latin America, but now there are other destinations such as Europe and the Middle East.

“The more of those direct routings you get in, the more you increase trade and increase the air cargo capabilities,” Joerger says. “The more you attract, it kind of builds. It becomes a snowball effect. But there’s a lot of good reasons for it. There’s a lot of basic fundamentals that are in place here – that pro-business climate, the high-quality talent.”

Though MIA is the top one in the state, Mangos says airports throughout Florida have the potential to develop their air cargo interests. 

“The destiny of this state [is] to diversify itself and get international trade from the very bottom of Florida to the top.”

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