AIRGLADES International Airport.
Every few years an airport somewhere in America decides that having cargo planes full of flowers land at their airport would be great for business and the local economy. They come to Miami and gather information about the huge volume of flowers that pass though Miami International Airport on a daily basis. They run back to their County Officials and wow them with impressive financial and employment numbers. They seek approval to add some cooler space and to solicit the local wholesalers to determine their interest in having the flowers they buy arrive nearby and therefore eliminating the need to truck them in from Miami.
The economical juices start flowing and there is a frenzy to make this happen and then BOOM, the project does not get passed the first few flights, if that far. We have seen this scenario play out in Orlando, Atlanta, Blytheville (ARK), MidAmerica (St Louis Mo.) and LA. So far the only one that has worked out is LA because they were successful in getting a regularly scheduled cargo flight from Ecuador to land there. The others ended up costing local Taxpayers a lot of money and no flowers to show for it.
Why did they fail, you might ask? There are many reasons but there are three that get in the way every time. No established trucking/Logistics out of those airports to service the volume of flowers arriving, insufficient return cargo to fill the plane back to South America and the significantly higher air carriage rate once the aircraft flies beyond the Miami region range which requires more fuel and carries less cargo. There are other reasons but these three generally kill the deal and the idea is dead until the next one comes along.
Enter the latest contestant, Fred Ford and his AIRGLADES International Airport team in Clewiston Florida. I recently interviewed Fred and his “right hand”, experienced perishable cargo executive , Hernan Galindo, to find out what they are doing and why they think this project will work and be successful where so many others have failed.
First of all Fred and Hernan possess a long history in managing cargo facilities, airlines and both public and privately managed airports. They have assembled a group of 20 industry icons and senior professionals to help develop and refine the project model.
To be fair a Google search of Fredrick C. Ford is not all flattering but, for sure, is more than offset by significant successes at Dallas/ Fort Worth, Boston-Logan and the United Parcel Service Plains States Hub outside of Chicago. His conflict with Pan Am and willingness to tell consulting clients, they don’t what they are doing, have been chronicled in an HBO movie and numerous TV shows such as PBS Frontline and ABC’s Prime Time Live. Entrepreneurs often have mixed track records and so I will not dwell on the negative and explain why I think this project team has a good chance of succeeding.
First, the Airglades Team has recruited the input of the perishable cargo industry leadership from the truckers to importers and forwarders to identify what they need to increase efficiency and add shelf-life at a lower logistics cost.
The basic facts based on several major studies assembled by Dade County which owns MIA, the FAA and The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) seem to conclude that MIA will run out of space within the next 12 years. Passenger and cargo are both projected to double within that time period and MIA is seemingly out of land and infrastructure to accommodate the increases. Clewiston Fl is located just west of Lake Okeechobee next to Rt 27 a major north-south artery that also allows for easy access to I 75 going west and I 95 going North.
The basic idea is to take a percentage of the perishable all cargo flights now landing at MIA and move them to Airglades. The plan is to erect one large building where all aspects related to handling perishable cargo can be accomplished. Planes pull up to the building unload their cargo and are reloaded back to South America, the flowers are cleared by USDA and Homeland Security and stay in the building for processing before being loaded on trucks heading to all parts of the US. Bouquet makers could take advantage of the consolidated services, the ample work force and the much needed employee parking that comes with the labor intensive work of assembling bouquets.
There are some interesting incentives for those importers willing to look to the future and participate in this project. First, nearly all US airports are owned by a government entity and subject to the vagaries of politics vs. Logic. The city or County that these airports reside in retain all profits from operations must reinvested those profits back into the facilities. Airglades is one of only three US airports that can be sold to and operated by a private or user included entity.
This potentially allows floral and other companies handling perishables the ability to own a piece of the airport itself and participate in the overall profits. Airports make money in several ways including, concessions, landing fees, fuel sales, and warehousing leases. Additionally Hendry County where Airglades is located is the poorest County in Florida and one of the poorest in the whole country.
The main businesses in the area are sugar, citrus and cattle and it should come as no surprise that much of the seed money and interest in this project is coming from the Families that own these companies. Currently the Airglades airport is used by the locals to land their private planes, skydivers and crop dusters so there is a great need for infrastructure before any perishable business can be conducted.
Some other basic reasons why this project could work relate to the desire of FDOT to reduce the number of large trucks on the road heading south of Orlando and Tampa. Most of the other airport projects required the airplanes to fly longer to reach their intended location and this negatively affected the transportation cost since air miles are much more expensive than road miles. The AIA team contends planes landing at Airglades would actually arrive a few minutes earlier than they would in Miami due to the North-South orientation of the runway at Airglades vs. the East-West orientation of most Florida airports. Due to the prevailing winds on the coast planes landing at MIA are forced to go miles east or west to land adding more miles and cost of nearly every flight. Since planes could fly the additional 80 miles right up the middle of the state and land at Airglades they would potentially arrive sooner and burn less fuel in the process.
Other positive reasons for this idea are a good low cost labor force already in the area and low cost housing for employees willing to relocate.
When we look at the Miami floral import community today there are many inefficiencies that are more or less out of the control of companies working here. Flowers are still being handled too many times before they head out on their journey into the floral distribution system. Every time a box is touched it creates a cost and a potential cold chain violation. Currently the Miami floral community is spread out all over west Dade County and trucks are running back and forth all day and night picking up and delivering flowers and other perishables. Most of the flowers arriving in the US are pre sold, so all this costly double and triple handling is unnecessary and cannot be avoided within the existing infrastructure. If Airglades is successful it will offer a clean slate for its members to create an efficient logistics path and capitalize on the savings while reducing handling time and thus increasing shelf life
Fred insists that this venture is designed to work in concert and as a relief valve with MIA offering them a potential overspill solution to accommodate the expected growth and NOT to compete with them for cargo. Since AIA was formed 3 years ago, their story has not changed…Airglades is intended to help preserve MIA as the Aerial Gateway to the Americas.
The project has a number of hurdles to clear as they move forward but they are moving quickly and expect to begin limited operations with 3-5 years. If you would like more information contact; firstname.lastname@example.org
I will continue to follow the progress and report back as I learn more about this interesting project. Stay tuned
William “Williee” Armellini
Editor and CEO of Flowersandcents.com