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No, I haven’t abdicated responsibility for writing my column this month. Rather, because I have long believed that the biggest factor separating American Airlines from the many carriers that have gone bankrupt or disappeared over the years is our people, and because this month we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our Miami hub, I want to spotlight the architect and driving force behind our success in Miami -- and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America -- over the last two decades. His name is Peter Dolara, and he is the man you see pictured above.
Born in Uruguay, Peter immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s, and he has been working for American Airlines since 1971. But the story of how Peter came to leave an indelible mark on our company, our industry, the city of Miami, and all of Latin America really begins in the late ’80s, when a delegation from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce visited American Airlines headquarters in Texas. The civic leaders urged us to purchase struggling Eastern Airlines’ route system in the Caribbean and Latin America. We were skeptical because the ’80s had been a decade of financial turmoil for many Latin American countries, and despite our long history, American had never been a major player in Miami. Before 1979, we had never even served the city, and a decade later, our operation there was still quite small.
That was about to change in a hurry. The Miami delegation made a convincing case, so within a short time, we embarked on our most ambitious route expansion ever. In October 1989, 20 years ago this month, we began transforming Miami from a dot on our route map into a major connecting hub and premier international gateway. It was a daunting task, and there was no shortage of doubters at the time, but what the doubters didn’t count on was Peter’s impassioned leadership, which we wisely tapped to lead this unprecedented effort.
In 1990, we launched service to 21 new cities in 15 Latin American countries. From a standing start, we quickly grew to become the top U.S. airline serving Latin America, offering more flights to more destinations in Latin America than any other carrier. Today, AA connects Miami to 124 destinations around the world, including 27 in Latin America, two in Mexico, 23 in the Caribbean, two in Canada, and three in Europe. Our regional partner, American Eagle, serves another 20 destinations. While we have reduced American’s broader schedule in response to the difficult economic environment, we have continued to find opportunities to enhance our presence in Miami. In fact, this fall we will operate 276 daily flights there, our largest schedule ever since we established the hub 20 years ago.
As our Miami operation and network have grown, so has our team there -- from fewer than 300 employees 20 years ago to more than 9,000 today -- and so has our impact on the South Florida economy. Today, Miami is the nation’s foremost gateway to the Americas, channeling more travelers and cargo to Latin America and the Caribbean than any other airport in the country. Last year, we carried 21 million customers through Miami. To put that in perspective, in 1989 that number was two million. Our Miami hub is a powerful economic catalyst, driving international trade and tourism and pumping more than $6.5 billion annually into the local economy.
Of course, our Miami success hasn’t come easily. The last two decades have brought more disruptive change than I have room to describe here. But through all the economic ups and downs, the natural and man-made disasters, and everything else this sometimes crazy business has thrown at us, the people and civic leadership of Miami have stood with us. And I’m pleased to say that 20 years in, our partnership is just getting started. Miami-Dade County is currently constructing a state-of-the-art $2.8 billion terminal at Miami International Airport for use by AA and our partners, and it’s due to be completed in 2011.
As we celebrate 20 years of growth and success and prepare for 20 more, I want to thank Peter Dolara for being not only a great leader but also a great ambassador for our company. I also want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the people of South Florida, who through their unwavering support continue to affirm the wisdom of the decision we made two decades ago. The community, which is home to thousands of AAers, has embraced us as its hometown airline, and I must also thank them for the hard work and spirit that have been the foundation of our Miami success. And, last but by no means least, thank you for flying with us today. Wherever you are going, all of us at American Airlines wish you buen viaje.
Have a great trip!
Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO