Opening of new car rental facility delayed at Myrtle Beach International Airport

The new terminal at the Myrtle Beach International Airport is still scheduled for a Jan. 25 completion ahead of its first flight on Feb. 19, but the opening of the rental car building has been delayed again.

The rental car building, originally expected to open in October, was set to open Tuesday, but that’s off now, too. It will be another month and a half before it’s ready, said Kirk Lovell, the airport’s spokesman.

A supply issue is to blame for the holdup, Lovell said. The contractors haven’t received the exterior panels needed to complete the work.

Other than that hiccup, Lovell said the general contractor’s schedule for the airport expansion hasn’t changed and they’re expected to meet the completion date.

The new terminal continues taking shape, with tilling and lighting being added to the drop ceiling frames. The elevators and escalators are installed, and workers are laying down flooring.

Lovell said all the new jet bridges are installed, and crews are bringing them online. The tiling should be finished in the next few weeks, he added, as the cabinetry starts arriving.

Another crucial component of the project starts at the end of December. That’s when the Transportation Security Administration begins testing the speed and reliability of the baggage screening system, Lovell said. All doors in the terminal will be closed and locked for the testing, which will take a few weeks.

The $118 million terminal expansion will bring the total number of gates at the airport from seven to 13, with the ability to grow to 18.

It is also bringing new eateries to the airport. A Dunkin’ Donuts and Steak & Shake will provide more dining options for travelers, as will local favorites Nacho Hippo and Bubba’s Fish Shack. The latter two will share a 5,000-square-foot space.

While the new terminal is good news for the Horry County Airport System, the bad news of declining airport traffic continues.

By the end of the year, passenger numbers are expected to be off about 15 percent from last year’s record-setting numbers – marking the first annual decline in the number of passengers since 2009, airport director Mike La Pier has said.

Airport officials blame the slide on changes made by airlines that have left Myrtle Beach with fewer seats. It also lost Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying in March and filed for bankruptcy.

Despite the declines, officials said the expansion is still needed because the existing terminal is handling more than it was designed for.