Thinking outside the box

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Earlier this year the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) presented Miami International Airport (MIA) with its Airport Innovation Award. Emilio T Gonzalez, director at Miami Dade Aviation Department, discusses the airport’s innovative efforts to date.

What does the award mean for MIA?

This recognition from one of our industry’s leading organizations, based on feedback from airport users, is positive proof that we are achieving our goals of improving the passenger experience at MIA through outside-the-box ideas and developing a culture of innovation among our staff.

How does the airport come up with its innovative ideas?

In addition to making innovation one of our department’s six core values, I tasked my staff with finding ways that we could leverage technology and innovation to better meet our customer service and business development goals. We’re not just being innovative for the sake of being innovative. We identified our biggest challenges from an operational and customer service standpoint, and then we searched for creative ways to overcome those obstacles. As a former Department of Homeland Security official and an executive with multinational firms, I’ve also drawn from my experience in Washington DC to personally lobby for our initiatives at the federal level.

What have been the most successful projects to date?

We’ve launched a number of innovations recently that have improved the arrivals process for our international travelers. MIA was one of the first two US airports in March 2015 to launch Mobile Passport – an app by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that helps speed US and Canadian citizens through the clearance process.

In August 2015, we became one of the first US airports authorized by CBP to allow baggage on international-to-international flights to be delivered directly to the connecting flight, instead of the passenger claiming the luggage and re-checking it. In early 2016, we also became the first US airport to partner with CBP in a pilot program that allows the majority of its passengers arriving from abroad to clear passport control and exit the customs area without a second inspection by CBP officers after collecting their luggage.

Right: Emilio T Gonzalez at the launch of MIA Airport Official 2.0

We’ve simplified the overall travel experience with MIA Airport Official 2.0, our upgraded mobile app that we launched in February 2016. Thanks to more than 500 Bluetooth data beacons installed throughout MIA, users can now scan their boarding pass and immediately receive turn-by-turn, blue-dot navigation with estimated walk times, real-time flight updates, and shopping and dining suggestions located nearby, based on their customizable personal profile.

MIA is one of only a handful of airports in the world to incorporate beacon technology with its mobile app to provide this cutting-edge, personalized travel experience. The app has had nearly 140,000 downloads since November 2014 (an average of 5,000 downloads per month), and weekly downloads actually increased recently, so we are still seeing robust interest.

How do they benefit passengers?

Thanks to MIA’s launch of automated passport control kiosks and the CBP mobile passport control app over the last two years, more than half of MIA’s passengers now have their passports processed electronically. Our international-to-international baggage delivery program has removed 10-15% of the luggage from our international baggage claim areas.

The MIA Airport Official mobile app is especially beneficial to our global travelers who have longer-than-average dwell times. At MIA, 40% of our passengers are connecting, and many of them spend hours in our airport between long-haul flights. We largely designed the MIA mobile app to give passengers a handheld information counter. They can quickly search how much time it takes to get to their connecting gate, where their favorite shop or restaurant is, and even how to quickly get from MIA to South Beach. Instead of tracking down an information counter, airport directory or airport employee, they can get the answers to all their layover questions with their fingertips.

What’s different about the creative structure at MIA compared to other airports?

As the saying goes, if you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen them all. Certainly, while there are similarities, each airport has its own set of unique challenges, depending on its geography, history, size and passenger demographics, among other factors. As the busiest US airport for international freight, the second-busiest for international passengers, and the airport with the most flights to Latin America and the Caribbean, we’ve faced our unique set of challenges head-on and tried to approach them with creative, outside-the-box solutions.

What innovative plans do you have in place for the future?

In November, MIA received local government approval for an application to the US Department of Commerce that would designate the entire airport as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) magnet site. Upon approval by the Commerce Department’s FTZ Board, which is expected in early 2017, the new magnet site will allow manufacturers to lease available airport property and have their tariffs deferred, reduced or eliminated.

With more than 400,000ft² of space available for lease, the MIA FTZ has the potential to generate millions of dollars annually in lease revenue and create hundreds of jobs at MIA. The application, which requests an expansion of Miami-Dade County’s existing FTZ 281 to include the airport, would allow companies to receive and process materials and merchandise as soon as it enters the country at MIA, all with reduced or eliminated customs duties – saving valuable time and money from the supply chain process. Site users would be companies working in industries such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, textiles, footwear, auto parts, aircraft parts, avionics, machinery equipment, consumer goods and perishables.

Already the busiest port of entry in America for international air freight, MIA will soon be able to receive perishable freight imports by sea as well – a first for any Florida airport – through a permit approved in September by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The first ocean-to-air trans-shipment is expected at MIA in December 2016.

To read more about the presentation of the AAAE’s Airport Innovation Award, click here.

Main image by Steven Brooke, supplied courtesy of Miami International Airport

December 13, 2016

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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