Business might be looking up at Myrtle Beach airport

dbryant@thesunnews.comFebruary 7, 2013 

Business might be looking up at Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is coming off a year with a double-digit percentage drop in passengers, the airport director said.

The airport, which is amid a $118 million expansion that is scheduled to be finished this spring, has added flights and more seats during the first six months of this year compared to the same six-month period last year, Mike LaPier, Horry County’s airports director, said in a news release.

About 715 flights and 52,585 arriving seats have been added during January through June, including a mix of new destinations for some carriers and some flights resuming seasonal service earlier than usual such as several on Spirit Airlines next week.

Spirit’s daily non-stop flights to Chicago, Detroit and Latrobe, Pa., start Feb. 14, and two weekly flights to Niagara Falls, N.Y., will start Friday then increase to four flights a week starting April 25. Spirit’s seat capacity is expected to increase by 25 percent this year.

US Airways, Delta and Porter Airlines also have added destinations or more flights to destinations they already serve.

Some of those additions are aiming to help fill the gap left by Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air when it abruptly stopped flying and filed for bankruptcy in March. Direct Air carried 92,502 passengers out of Myrtle Beach in 2011, but only roughly 4,100 passengers last year before it shut down, according to airport statistics.

“The 2013 year is shaping up to be a strong year for the airport,” LaPier said in a news release. “The addition of new markets and increased available seat capacity by incumbent carriers shows the strength of the Myrtle Beach brand.”

Spirit Airlines, which carries nearly half the passengers at the airport each year, added two destinations – Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, both starting April 25. The carrier also plans to start several of its seasonal flights earlier in the year than usual, aiming to help fill the void left by Direct Air. In addition to the flights kicking off next week, Spirit will start two weekly flights to Charleston, W.Va., March 2 then increase to three a week starting April 25.

US Airways expanded its weekend-only service to Washington Reagan to daily earlier this month, and will increase its service to Philadelphia starting in March. Delta will add seasonal non-stop service to Boston in June, and Porter Airlines increases its nonstop service to Toronto City Centre next month.

Allegiant Air will start its seasonal service May 3 to Allentown, Pa.; Fort Wayne, Ind., Youngstown, Ohio and Huntington, W.Va.

About 740,457 passengers flew out of the airport last year, down nearly 16 percent over the record-setting 2011 when 878,180 passengers flew out of the airport. Officials blamed the decline on the loss of Direct Air and cuts to the number of seats available, which was the result of the loss of some flights and the frequency of others.

Crews are putting the finishing touches on the new 240,000-square-foot terminal. An opening date hasn’t yet been set, but officials expect it to be complete March 19, about a month later than planned after delays in deliveries of materials because of Hurricane Sandy.

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

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