MYRTLE BEACH — The busiest airline at Myrtle Beach International Airport plans to fly to two additional cities starting in April and use bigger planes on other routes in moves that could help boost seat capacity at the airport, which saw major declines in passenger numbers last year.
Spirit Airlines said Tuesday it will start nonstop, daily routes to Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington International Airport starting April 25, providing additional options for travelers to those markets.
Officials lauded the additional flights during a news conference at the airport Tuesday, saying it will make it easier for golfers and tourists in those areas to come to Myrtle Beach, and give locals more travel options, too.
“That’s unprecedented access from two of our core golf markets to Myrtle Beach,” said Bill Golden, president of marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. “We are in a very time-compressed world. Convenience is a critical factor.”
The flight will leave Baltimore/Washington at 10:45 a.m. and arrive in Myrtle Beach at 12:10 p.m., then leave Myrtle Beach at 5:20 p.m. and arrive in Baltimore at 6:40 p.m. The Philadelphia flight will leave Philadelphia at 7:25 a.m. and arrive in Myrtle Beach at 9 a.m., then leave Myrtle Beach at 9:50 a.m. and arrive in Philadelphia at 11:25 a.m.
Spirit, which carries half of Myrtle Beach’s annual passengers, also said Tuesday it plans to start using bigger planes on Myrtle Beach routes, a move that leaders say could help turn around declining passenger numbers at the airport. Cuts in seat capacity by Spirit Airlines and others led to 16 percent declines in passenger numbers through the airport last year.
Spirit plans to boost its seat capacity by 25 percent, officials said.
“It’s a pretty big increase in seats,” said Mark Kopczak, Spirit’s senior director of network planning. “It demonstrates our commitment to the Myrtle Beach market. We see real potential in the Myrtle Beach market.”
Spirit has previously said it will resume seasonal service to several markets earlier than usual this year. Daily non-stop flights to Chicago, Detroit and Latrobe, Pa., will start Feb. 14; two weekly flights to Niagara Falls, N.Y., will start Feb. 15 then increase to four flights a week starting April 25. And two weekly flights to Charleston, W.Va., will start March 2 then increase to three a week starting April 25.
Spirit’s announcement comes a week after US Airways said it planned to expand from weekend-only flights to Reagan International in Washington, D.C., to daily flights starting Feb. 1.
More new flights on some of the other carriers that serve Myrtle Beach could be announced in the coming weeks, officials said, though they remained tight-lipped about details. Airport officials also are aiming to turn around last year’s decline in passenger numbers with additional service.
[Spirit’s announcement] should be an indication of where we are going,” airport director Mike La Pier said. “This is a heckuva nice step toward that.”
The airport, which is amid a $118 million expansion, had record numbers of passengers in 2010 and 2011 but experienced double-digit drops in passenger numbers for 2012.
La Pier declined Tuesday to say whether the new terminal is on track to go live as originally planned Feb. 19, saying an updated schedule likely will be released next week.
“We are updating the schedule,” he said.
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