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Caribbean-American Antiguan Makes Black History in the Aviation Field

Carlton Cartwright

MIAMI -(BPRW) – On this last day of Black History Month, I report on a maker of history by highlighting some of the accomplishments of an African American, doing his job in an exemplary fashion and going beyond to help change the trajectory of the African continent for the benefit of its indigenous inhabitants and the Diaspora.

Miguel Southwell, deputy director at Miami International Airport, is in the process of making history. Last year, Mr. Southwell was recognized by a number of Black publications and organizations, among them ICABA which cited him as among the top 25 most distinguished Caribbean-Americans in South Florida. For this reason, I wanted to get a closer insight into his accomplishments as a top airport executive, and a top Black business professional.

Mr. Southwell is responsible for the business affairs of the Miami-Dade County system of airports, which includes Miami International Airport and four general aviation airports. He directs the key divisions of Real Estate Management; Food, Beverage and Retail Concessions; Parking Operations; Car Rental Services; Hotel and VIP Club Management; Marketing (of passenger and air cargo development); HR; Procurement; Contracts; MIA Business Ventures (consulting services to other airports); IT; and Fine Arts and Culture. He is responsible for raising over $700 million each year from a number of revenue sources.

Miguel Southwell

Prior to joining the County in 2001, Mr. Southwell worked at the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in various positions. He also served as Interim Assistant General Manager of Business and Finance. He also served for five years as an adjunct professor of airport and airline management at Georgia State University. Prior to Atlanta, Mr. Southwell oversaw 16 branches as an Assistant Vice President with Willamette Savings in Portland, Oregon. He started his career in the airline industry in the Caribbean island of Antigua where he was born. He holds a master’s degree in Business Administration.

Under the leadership of Mr. Southwell, the Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) won the FAA’s top 2012 Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Advocate and Partner Award; MIA also won the Airport Minority Advisory Council’s (AMAC) top 2012 Airport Concessions Award for meeting or exceeding its Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) goal over a period of no less than two years. The DBE and ACDBE programs are designed to provide airport contracting opportunities to minorities and women-owned businesses, particularly in the areas of construction and food, beverage and retail concessions at the airport. Mr. Southwell’s view is that, “These programs are great for the community. They are essential in building wealth amongst minority and women-owned businesses and stimulating economic development within the communities in which they operate.” Underscoring the diversity of South Florida, Mr. Southwell is among approximately six African Americans to hold either the top position or deputy’s position among the nation’s more than 400 commercial airports.

MIA has indeed excelled as a result of his leadership. This past Monday, the beginning of the last week of Black History Month, Mr. Southwell spoke at the Airport Revenue News (ARN) Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada. Speaking to an audience of approximately 200 delegates, this African American panelist described his airport’s approach to considering private-sector funds to finance airport capital projects in both the U. S. and in nations throughout the African Diaspora, including Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Over the last five years, Mr. Southwell has led the Miami airport’s team in negotiating a number of public private partnerships (P3). The negotiations will produce over $1.2 billion in new construction, funded by the private sector, and over 10,000 jobs in the community. He has also provided P3 advice to a number of airports throughout the Diaspora.

When asked about a potential role for Miami-Dade County’s airports to participate in a leadership role in economic development activities that could be of mutual benefit to Miami and countries in the African Diaspora, Mr. Southwell points to the airport’s longstanding and strong ties with Latin America and the Caribbean, with MIA being the gateway to those regions.

He also credits African American Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss for his strong and longstanding advocacy for the development of MIA as the gateway to Africa. Towards that end, beginning in 2005, Mr. Southwell partnered MIA with Washington-based Foundation for Democracy in Africa to stage a Miami summit, the US-Africa Air Transportation Summit, the purpose of which was to promote direct air service between Africa and the U.S. and of course, with an emphasis on Miami. Ironically, years earlier Mr. Southwell orchestrated a similar effort when he worked in Atlanta that contributed to Miami’s loss to that city which was South African Airways’ direct service from Atlanta to Africa, However, it end resulted in more direct flights between Africa and the U.S. While the number of such weekly direct U.S.-Africa flights have more than doubled to 36 since his Miami effort began, this number still dwarfs the over 5,300 weekly direct flights between the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean. Asked about the importance of this effort to build air service between Miami-Dade and Africa, Mr. Southwell emphasizes that the key role of MIA is that of the chief economic development engine of the County.

A direct air service link between Miami-Dade and points in Africa, particularly South Africa which is one of the fastest growing economies on that continent, will immediately spur trade development and build even stronger cultural ties between the two economic centers. Mr. Southwell stated that investment opportunities in Africa are particularly favorable for U.S. firms wishing to take advantage of the privatization sweeping across that continent within various industry sectors. Mr. Southwell points to the growing presence of Indian and Chinese businesses in East, South and West Africa and believes such business opportunities abound for U.S. companies, if only those businesses were able to transport their goods and people via timely and direct air service between the two points. Approximately 75 percent of passengers traveling between the U.S. and Africa now must connect through another continent – primarily Europe. The next US-Africa Air Transportation Summit will be held in Miami in May 2014.

I asked Mr. Southwell’s view of the threats to aviation growth and what is being done to address them. He believes among the biggest threats to aviation growth are increasing fuel prices and a looming shortage of aircraft pilots which will become critical in about two years. Over the last decade, he states, the qualification threshold for pilots has risen. In addition to a commercial pilot’s license, entry level pilots must now have a four year degree, making it a costly and perhaps unattractive career choice. However, he states that in the long run, being a commercial pilot is still a rewarding career. One he says that not enough Black youths are considering. Long haul captains that fly international routes can earn as much as $400,000 per year and may fly as few as 10 days per month. He and his staff at MIA have been working very closely with Florida Memorial University’s aviation program in an attempt to build awareness and promote aviation careers among the students of that university. Florida Memorial University is the only Historically Black College or University in South Florida. Mr. Southwell believes that this publication and other media can play an important role to relay these important career opportunities to Black parents and students, not only to consider being airline pilots, but to also contemplate careers in airport and airline management, where there is a dearth of Black participation and a great deal of opportunity for those seeking a rewarding career.

Also under Mr. Southwell’s leadership, MIA has achieved a number of other major accomplishments. MIA was named “U.S. Airport with the Most New Airlines” in 2011 and “Fastest Growing U.S. Airport in 2011” by aviation industry analysts Anna.aero. MIA is now the U.S. airport with the most international flights, surpassing JFK in 2012; the most international passenger traffic growth of any U.S. gateway airport over the last four years, with passenger traffic growth exceeding 7 percent more than twice the national average, for each of the last two years; MIA’s North Terminal concession program was named Best (large airport) Terminal Concession Program by Airport Revenue News (ARN) during the magazine’s February 2012 annual awards; MIA was named one of the 10 best airports in the U.S. in 2011 by the readership of Travel and Leisure magazine. For the past decade, Mr. Southwell has served on the World Governing Board of Airport’s Council International (ACI), the 5-region official association of the world’s airports consisting of 1,650 airports in over 179 countries and territories. He is also a board member and the immediate-past president of ACI’s Latin America and Caribbean region.

As I conclude this article, there are many areas I would have liked to explore with Mr. Southwell. However, I am pleased to share my enthusiasm with the readers of South Florida Times and Black PRWire news consumers regarding the African American community possessing a jewel in it’s midst by the name of Miguel Southwell – who is making Black history.

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