Myrtle Beach airport has busiest August ever

dbryant@thesunnews.comSeptember 12, 2013 

New flights and more seat capacity led to a double-digit percentage increase in the number of arriving passengers at Myrtle Beach International Airport in May. A recent release of passenger numbers showed the airport had its best August ever.

FILE PHOTO BY JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

— Myrtle Beach International Airport recorded its busiest August ever, continuing a positive trend that officials say is fueled by flights to new destinations and other additions by airlines.

About 105,045 passengers arrived at the airport in August, up 20 percent from the same month last year and outdoing the previous August record of 104,055 incoming passengers in 2010, according to airport statistics released Thursday.

“The record passenger growth is attributed to each carrier, at the airport, either increasing seat capacity, adding new nonstop air service or offering low fares,” Mike La Pier, Horry County’s airports director, said in a news release.

It’s the seventh consecutive month of rising passenger numbers compared to last year, and the second month this year marking a new or near record month in passenger numbers. June was the airport’s second busiest June ever, with 96,696 incoming passengers.

The trend is more positive than 2012, when the number of passengers dropped by 16 percent because of cutbacks by airlines and the loss of Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying and filed bankruptcy in March 2012.

Through August this year, 602,817 passengers had flown into the airport, up about 12 percent compared to the same eight months last year, but still shy of the 645,978 passengers who flew into the airport in 2011.

Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus said the strong tourism industry likely is helping to fuel the passenger increases.

“I think it is part of the bigger picture,” Loftus said of the passenger numbers.

Most tourists get here by driving, and tourism officials have long said that increasing the number of tourists who fly here is key to growing the tourism industry.

Officials expect the positive trend to continue into the slower fall season, when airlines trim service because of the lighter tourist demand. One carrier only flies to Myrtle Beach during the fall and winter – Porter Airlines, which serves Toronto, Canada. Its flights are scheduled to start in early October.

“As a result of normal thinning, returning seasonal capacity and retention of frequencies to [Regan National Airport near Washington, D.C.] and [Philadelphia International Airport], one would expect passenger levels to remain positive over the previous year but perhaps not at the same rate of growth as spring and summer,” airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said in an email.

Spirit Airlines, which carries about half the passengers to Myrtle Beach each year, also had its busiest August ever in Myrtle Beach, according to airport statistics. It brought 57,764 passengers into the beach, a 34 percent increase over the same month last year and surpassing its previous August high of carrying 48,813 passengers into Myrtle Beach in 201Z1.

Through August this year, Spirit carried 311,035 passengers into Myrtle Beach.

Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said last month that new destinations and bigger planes this year have led to the growth in passenger numbers.

“We added two new nonstop routes to/from MYR: Baltimore/Washington and Philadelphia,” she said last month. “In addition we increased the size of our planes from our 145-seat Airbus A319 to our 178-seat Airbus A320 on most MYR routes.”

US Airways, the airport’s second most popular carrier, brought 20,774 passengers into the beach in August, up 19 percent compared to the same month last year. Through August this year, US Airways brought 145,055 passengers into Myrtle Beach.

The airport’s newest carrier – WestJet flying to Toronto, Canada – had its best month in August since starting to serve Myrtle Beach, carrying 1,005 passengers into the airport. During its four months serving Myrtle Beach, WestJet has carried 3,191 incoming passengers, according to airport statistics.

The airport, which is owned by Horry County, moved into a new $118 million, more spacious terminal in April. The new 274,000-square-foot terminal has new gates, more remote check-in kiosks for passengers and new restaurants including Nacho Hippo and Steak ‘n’ Shake.

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

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