MYRTLE BEACH — Passenger numbers have rebounded this year at Myrtle Beach International Airport, but still remain off the record pace in 2011.
More passengers flew into Myrtle Beach through October this year than all of 2012, which was a disappointing year capped with a 16 percent decline in passenger numbers.
New destinations, an earlier-than-usual start to some seasonal flights and bigger planes have boosted seat capacity to Myrtle Beach this year, leading to increases in passenger numbers throughout the year, officials have said.
“The growth in passenger traffic at MYR can be attributed to an airline industry that is becoming financially healthy after years of tough economic times,” airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said. “As the industry becomes stronger, airlines have been able to add seat capacity and new destinations into Myrtle Beach International Airport. With additional seat capacity and service to new destinations, and the continued popularity of Myrtle Beach, S.C., passenger traffic at MYR is showing year-over-year growth.”
Through October, 749,113 passengers flew into Myrtle Beach -- more than the 742,097 incoming passengers in all of 2012, according to the latest airport statistics. For the same 10-month period in 2011, about 793,547 passengers flew into Myrtle Beach.
The airport did have its busiest August ever this year and second-busiest June. It also moved into the new $118 million terminal in April. In October, 74,015 passengers flew into Myrtle Beach, up from the 63,715 passengers that flew into Myrtle Beach in October 2012, according to the airport statistics released this week.
Officials see the airport as a way to grow the Grand Strand’s tourism industry, which has been mainly a drive-to destination. Landing flights to new markets could help lure new visitors to the beach by making it a more convenient destination to get to, officials have said.
Canadian carrier WestJet wrapped up its first season serving Myrtle Beach in late October, bringing 717 passengers into Myrtle Beach that month. During its six months flying here, the carrier brought 4,636 passengers into Myrtle Beach, according to airport statistics. That was short of expectations, and Horry County is having to pay the carrier roughly $570,000 to make up for WestJet’s revenue shortfall, as outlined in an agreement signed before the carrier started serving Myrtle Beach in May.
Passenger numbers at three airlines jumped by 30 percent or more during October: Spirit Airlines, which carries roughly half the passengers in Myrtle Beach each year; United Airlines and Porter Airlines, which started its fall flights to Canada in October.
Spirit, which serves four destinations year-round from Myrtle Beach, has the same plan for Myrtle Beach as it did this year, which includes starting some of its seasonal flights in mid-February and using bigger planes during the summer.
Spirit’s daily flights to Chicago and Detroit resume Feb. 13, while service to other destinations also will begin as early as mid-February and ramp up in the spring and summer as the beach gets busier.
“Also...we’re planning to operate almost all of our flights during the peak summer season using our larger, 178-seat Airbus A320 aircraft,” spokeswoman Misty Pinson said in an email.
Lovell said the momentum at Myrtle Beach International should continue into 2014, as long as the airline industry stays healthy.
“Horry County Department of Airports is optimistic that passenger volumes, into and out of Myrtle Beach International Airport, will continue to show growth in the coming months,” Lovell said. “Of course, this is assuming the aviation system continues to show positive economic growth.”
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