Direct Myrtle Beach Flights Possible for Yeager Airport Fliers

Mar. 1 -- Charleston fliers could see direct flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., added to Yeager Airport's schedule this summer.

Atlanta-based Aviation Advantage is considering flying from Charleston to Myrtle Beach. Yeager and company officials have been discussing the deal for the past few years, said Cary Evans, the company's executive vice president and chief operating officer. The aviation management company contracts with airlines to fly its routes.

If the deal goes through, passengers would fly on a 122-seat Boeing 737 a few days a week between Charleston and Myrtle Beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Yeager Director Rick Atkinson said.

He has called a special meeting of the airport's governing board for March 8 to see if members are interested in the project.

If Aviation Advantage were to have the flights operating by Memorial Day, the company and airport would have to make the deal happen fairly quickly.

"To properly promote the service, you would need to advertise 60 days in advance," Evans said.

Exact schedules and prices for any Myrtle Beach flights would still need to be worked out. But Atkinson estimates round-trip flights to Myrtle Beach would cost less than $200 and round-trip flights to Orlando would cost about $250.

Atkinson said that the company is also interested in flying between Charleston and Orlando, Fla. Evans said he was hesitant to be more specific about any other flights.

"We have expressed an interest in serving a number of cities out of Charleston," he said. "We've expressed that interest over a period of time."

He said his company is interested in Yeager because it believes the airport is underserved.

"A clear indication of that was when Independence Air was flying. You can see the expansion of passengers," he said.

About 78,000 more people flew out of Yeager last year, compared with the year before, Atkinson said. About 36,000 of them were on Independence Air, which filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in January.

Myrtle Beach would be an ideal addition to Yeager's destination list because of the high number of West Virginians who vacation there, Atkinson said.

Orlando is Yeager's No. 3 destination, behind only Washington and Atlanta. Nearly 30,000 people flew from Charleston to Orlando between June 2004 and June 2005, Atkinson said.

Atkinson said airport board members will have to decide if they want to commit to the project, which would require local, state and airport funding. The airport could have to pay the airline if not enough of the planes' seats are filled. But, if the number of passengers goes above a certain level, the airport would receive half of the profits, he said.

Money for the airport's revenue guarantee would come from the money people pay to park at Yeager, Atkinson said. The airport would also allocate about $30,000 from its advertising budget specifically to the new flights.

Atkinson also will have Colorado aviation analyst Mike Boyd look at the company's proposal. If the board is interested in moving forward, Atkinson and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper will then look to secure local and state money for the project.

To contact staff writer Jennifer Ginsberg, use e-mail or call 348-5195.

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