Airline Cuts Fuel Traffic Slide At Myrtle Beach

Jun. 9--Traffic at Myrtle Beach International Airport continued to slide in May but not by as much as the previous few months.

Blame the decline on reductions by many of the airlines, which have cut the number of seats in recent months aiming to stay afloat in the turbulent airline industry, said Bob Kemp, the airport's director.

Seat capacity in Myrtle Beach has dropped by 30 percent since January, he said.

"It is basically a reduction in capacity by most of our airlines," Kemp said. "They are flying almost full. We simply don't have enough seats coming in here."

Delta, Spirit and the airport's largest carrier, U.S. Airways, have cut back. Hooters Air called it quits for scheduled flights in April, also contributing to May's decline.

The seat crunch will make it challenging for locals to get flights for their summer vacations unless they plan ahead, Kemp said. It also isn't good news to tourism promoters as Myrtle Beach gears up for the busy season, said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Having fewer available seats is problematic," he said. "Fewer flights during our peak season is like a retailer running light on product before a big holiday."

Passenger traffic has been skidding since November, with monthly declines in deplanements ranging from 7 percent to nearly 22 percent.

In May, about 69,580 people got off planes in Myrtle Beach, an 8.24 percent decline from May 2005. The number of people flying out of Myrtle Beach fell by 11.43 percent from May 2005, with 71,572 boarding planes in May.

Since January, 261,421 people have flown into Myrtle Beach, a 16 percent drop from the same five-month period in 2005.

"It's a concern," said Mickey McCamish, president of marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. "It's not headed in the right direction."

The cost of some of those flights also hurts by prompting golfers to skip Myrtle Beach and go to more affordable locations in Florida, he said, adding that some flights from Boston to Myrtle Beach cost twice as much as those headed to the Sunshine State.

Increased air traffic is a must to grow the tourism industry, especially in the shoulder seasons, officials say.

Horry County Council is wrestling with a plan to build a new airport terminal, but delays have pushed the opening back to 2009, at the earliest.

County leaders also are considering a $150,000 incentive for any airline that can add new routes.

"The real key is to get additional seats coming in here," McCamish said. "The demand is there. The seats can be filled."

Airlines that have trimmed seats in Myrtle BeachDelta Air LInes

Spirit Airlines

U.S. Airways

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or [].