Myrtle Beach airport ticket fee to increase: Cash will help fund expansion

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July 15--Passengers flying in and out of Myrtle Beach will start paying slightly higher airline fees Aug. 1 as part of the plan to pay for the Myrtle Beach International Airport expansion.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved a $4.50 passenger facilities charge earlier this month that will be collected by the airlines when passengers book tickets and then given back to the airport to fund part of the $117 million construction cost of the terminal expansion. The funding for the expansion is coming together, construction and airport officials said Wednesday at the Airport Advisory Committee meeting, including the approval of the fee and notification of about $3 million in grants earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The passenger fee was expected to be about $6 a ticket in earlier estimates and could be increased in coming years if needed and approved by the FAA. The Horry County Department of Airports will use the fee revenue in two ways: to pay for $19 million in work as it occurs starting this fall and to set aside money to pay off bond debt later. Passengers using frequent flier miles or employees flying for free will not be charged the fee.

Airport spokeswoman Lauren Morris said the fee is a standard charge added to tickets for airports undergoing FAA-approved construction and has been charged by other airports such as Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. She also said passengers should expect to see a little more than the $4.50 bump in ticket price because of a varying processing fee that the individual airlines may charge. The airport should start to receive the fee revenue in September, she said.

Other funding for the expansion is also coming together, including about $3 million in U.S. Department of Transportation grants announced by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's office earlier this week. Horry County Council also approved first reading Tuesday of an ordinance approving the sale of four parcels around the Grand Strand Airport and near Barefoot Resort Bridge Road worth about $10.6 million that will go toward construction costs. Assistant Airport Director and Director of Finance Pat Apone said the airport department aims to have the balance of needed money, after the entitlement and other grants are delivered, bonded out by Dec. 31 because of the positive bond market and because of a tax break being offered through the federal stimulus plan for specific project bonding through the end of December.

The plans for the expansion and the accompanying extension of Harrelson Boulevard are also on track, said Rick Ott, executive vice president at M.B. Kahn Construction. Ott said portions of the Harrelson Boulevard extension project will go out to bid Aug. 8, and contracts should be awarded some time in mid-September. He said the company's contractors completed nearly all of the drawings as of this week.

Ott also said the company has managed to come in under budget so far, bidding out about $19 million in construction packages to date and coming in about $4 million under budget.

"If those trends hold out, you folks will get ... a deal on your new airport project," Ott said. "Overall, we're hopeful that the project will come in on or under budget, and it's looking pretty good."

Contact CLAUDIA LAUER at 626-0301.

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