Declines continue for Myrtle Beach airport

dbryant@thesunnews.comNovember 19, 2012 

Fewer passengers flew out of Myrtle Beach International Airport in October than a year ago, continuing a trend that officials have blamed on a dwindling number of available seats.

About 64,765 travelers flew out of the airport in October, a 16 percent drop from October 2011, according to airport statistics. In addition to the cuts in available seats, Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall Oct. 29, also led to flight delays and cancellations to and from New York and New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic area through the end of the month.

Traffic at the Myrtle Beach airport has dropped every month but one so far this year, with double digit percentage declines most months.

This year through October, 657,684 passengers have flown out of the airport, a 16 percent drop from the same period last year.

Officials have blamed the ongoing declines on the loss of Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying in March and filed for bankruptcy, and on cuts by carriers such as Spirit Airlines that have left fewer available seats.

Spirit, which carries half the passengers each year at the airport, cut routes to Washington, D.C., and Atlanta this year.

Some travelers say high ticket prices also could be contributing to the declines, with many of them flying out of Wilmington, N.C., Charleston or Charlotte instead of Myrtle Beach because they say it’s cheaper.

The monthly declines are expected to continue until the spring, at the earliest. Officials said this summer that they stepped up talks with airlines aiming to lure new service and keep the existing service, but they won’t know whether those efforts paid off until carriers start announcing spring schedules in the next couple of months.

The airport, amid a $118 million expansion, is coming off two consecutive record years of passengers but isn’t on track to reach those levels this year. Construction on the new 274,000-square-foot terminal is wrapping up, with the first flights from it on track to begin in February. The new rental car building will open in early December, more than a month later than expected because of problems with delivery of materials, officials have said.

The airport is expected to be buzzing this week with Thanksgiving travelers and has set aside an extra 260 temporary parking spaces aiming to handle the rush.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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