Some seasonal flights starting earlier than usual has led to the first monthly increase in passengers at Myrtle Beach International Airport in a year.
About 38,599 passengers flew into Myrtle Beach in February, up about 6 percent compared to February 2012, according to airport statistics. That’s the first time since February 2012 that the number of passengers in a month has increased compared with the previous year.
The biggest difference in February came from Spirit Airlines, which carried about 3,939 more passengers into the Myrtle Beach airport than in February 2012 after starting several of its seasonal flights earlier than usual. Spirit, which carried 19,444 passengers into Myrtle Beach in February, started its daily nonstop flights to Chicago, Detroit and Latrobe, Pa., and two weekly flights to Niagara Falls, N.Y., in February this year to help make up for the void left by Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying a year ago and filed for bankruptcy.
Spirit, which had cut some flights in 2012, has said its seat capacity to Myrtle Beach would increase by 25 percent this year.
“Seat capacity is coming back so there is room for people to fly,” airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said. The surge, which Lovell expects to continue, comes as officials prepare to open the new 274,000-square-foot terminal April 2, about six weeks later than originally planned because of glitches in the delivery of construction materials after Hurricane Sandy.
The $118 million terminal houses more gates, more remote check-in kiosks for passengers and new restaurants for the airport including Nacho Hippo and Steak ‘n’ Shake. Officials plans to have a ribbon cutting for the new terminal Sunday so the ceremony won’t get in the way of passengers on opening day.
The airport had a rough year in 2012, with 742,097 passengers flying into Myrtle Beach, down about 16 percent from 2011 and ending a two-year run of record years.
Despite the increase in incoming passengers in February, the numbers for the first two months of 2013 are about even with the same period in 2012. About 69,212 passengers flew into the airport during January and February, off less than 1 percent from last year. About 30,613 passengers flew into the airport in January, down about 8 percent from January 2012.
But Lovell said the passenger numbers should continue to improve in the coming months, compared to the same months last year, as more new flights are on tap.
“Seat capacity continues to grow over the next several months and year so hopefully passenger numbers follow suit,” he said.
Delta will add seasonal nonstop service to Boston in June, and WestJet will start serving Myrtle Beach on May 2 with flights twice a week to Toronto Pearson International Airport in Canada. Spirit plans to start flying to Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington International Airport on April 25.
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