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If you know American Airlines even a little (and since you’re reading this column, I’m guessing you do), you know that Miami, and indeed the entire South Florida region, is very important to us. And in a way, that’s not surprising. After all, greater Miami is not only one of the world’s top tourist destinations, it is also a major center of international finance and trade, as well as the primary cultural and economic link between the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. Why wouldn’t a global airline like American want a big presence in Miami?

However, having been with American for many years, I can personally attest that what seems like a no-brainer today was a lot less obvious to us back in the late 1980s. It was then that a group of Miami business and civic leaders approached us and urged us to purchase the Latin American and Caribbean route system of struggling Eastern Airlines. We were skeptical at first. Despite a history dating back to the 1920s, American had never been a major player in Miami. We didn’t start serving the city until 1979, and a decade later, our operation there was still small. We were also keenly aware that the 1980s had been a decade of financial turmoil for many Latin American countries. If Eastern couldn’t make it work there, what made us think we could? Fortunately for us, our skepticism was overwhelmed by the persuasive case of the Miami delegation — and in amazingly short order, we were embarking on the biggest and most ambitious route expansion in ?American’s history.

Starting in 1989, we transformed Miami from another dot on our route map into a major connecting hub and a world-class global gateway. From a standing start, we quickly became the leading U.S. airline serving Latin America — a distinction we’ve been proud to hold ever since. Today we serve more countries in Latin America than any other U.S. carrier, and from Miami we offer more flights to more Latin American destinations than all other airlines combined.

Last year, American and American Eagle combined to carry nearly 25 million customers through our hub at Miami International Airport — a far cry from the 2 million we carried in 1989. Today we offer more than 300 flights a day to well over 100 destinations in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe. Our employment in South Florida has grown from fewer than 300 employees in 1989 to nearly 9,000 today. We are one of the largest private employers in Miami-Dade County, with an annual payroll exceeding $400 million — and our local presence has led to more than 115,000 additional jobs created through ancillary businesses.

The unwavering support of the greater-Miami community has enabled us to create a world-class gateway that pumps billions of dollars into the local economy and provides South Floridians with a level of global connectivity to the rest of the world that few cities anywhere can match. And with the beautiful, new and highly acclaimed North Terminal of Miami International Airport as our base, we are going to do whatever it takes to enhance Miami’s pre-eminent status in the years to come. In April, we will launch new service between Miami and Barcelona, Spain. Like Miami, Barcelona is a top destination both in terms of tourism and business travel. Late this month, our partner Iberia — with whom we operate jointly across the Atlantic — will be introducing a second flight between Miami and Madrid, complementing American’s current daily flight between those cities.

The growth and expansion of American in South Florida is one of the most remarkable success stories in the history of commercial aviation. But just as we needed a little nudge in the 1980s — making what turned out to be a great decision — our success in Miami over the last 23 years has been a true collaborative effort. The community has embraced us as its hometown airline, and of course the spirit and hard work of the thousands of our people who call South Florida home have been — and remain — the foundation of our success there.

We are proud to contribute to the economic and cultural vitality of Miami and of all the communities we serve around the world. Whichever one of those communities is your destination today, I want to thank you for giving us the chance to take you there.

On behalf of all of my American Airlines colleagues, buen viaje!

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Thomas W. Horton
American Airlines