Drive about 55 miles west of downtown Miami on the Tamiami Trail (US 41) and you will see, on the north side of the road, a locked gate and sign announcing the entrance to the now named Dade-Collier Transition Airport.
Originally envisioned to be the largest airport in the world and serving South Florida — five times larger than JFK in New York — the two-mile-long runway, longer than any runway at Miami International Airport was built in the late 1960s. But further development was blocked as environmentalists feared great damage to the flow of water through Everglades National Park. Today, basically abandoned, the airstrip is used for pilot training purposes with an average of only 12 flights a day.
Now, a new use may have been found. Seeking economic growth for South Florida, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Beacon Counsel have looked toward the Homestead Air Reserve Base as the best site for their proposed Miami Air Show patterned after the annual Paris Air Show.
The show that brings together aircraft manufacturers, airline executives and governments from around the word updating their airlines and modernizing their military. Started in 1908 as a small side addition to the “big auto” show of Paris, attendance has grown to 358,000 in 2013 with buyers purchasing over $130 billion in aircraft.
The Pentagon killed the use of the air base in 2011. Having lost the Homestead site for the proposed Miami Air Show the mayor is looking to the little-used airstrip adjacent to the Everglades as a site for the proposed air show. The next step is selling the Everglades site to the air industry business community. Our mayor, the governor and the chair of the county commission Jean Monestime will attend the Paris Air Show this coming June testing the waters for such a show.
The economic benefits from Naples to Miami are conservatively estimated to far exceed the benefits of a Super Bowl in Miami. Traditionally all such air shows have been held in Paris or London. No air show has ever been held in this hemisphere. Miami would be the logical site for such a show in the Americas considering the airline connections from South America, Europe, Africa and the Orient.
The big obstacle is the potential damage to the flow of water into and through the Everglades.
Jonathan Ullman, a leader of the South Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club stated, “The environment impacts of that area are clear. That’s why the airport was [originally] stopped.”
As recently as 2009, oil companies were stopped from drilling for oil on the same site due to concerns about the environment.
Our mayor stated that the current 39- square-mile Everglades site would not be expanded into sensitive areas. Remember this is not a carnival type show with aerobatics and clowns. It will attract business men and women as has been the experience in Paris where the first three days of the five day show is attended on an invitation only basis.
The idea is gargantuan. The prospects of a quarter of a million, high spending corporate executives and government officials would rain multi-millions of dollars on our communities.
The subject of environmental damage must first be resolved. If the environment can be protected, South Florida would be the big winner.
The next question: can aircraft manufacturers and buyers be persuaded to come to a Miami show in addition to the show in Paris? Our mayor, governor and commission chair will have a good idea this coming June after attending the Paris show.
We appreciate your opinions on this column whether in agreement or disagreement. Send your comments to (fax number) 305-662-6980 or email to Kenneth.Bluh@ColumbusCL.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper, its editors or publisher.