Myrtle Beach-based Hooters Air has suspended all regularly scheduled flights from Myrtle Beach International Airport until March, airline officials said Friday.
The moves come about a month after the local airline cut some flights between Myrtle Beach and six destinations until March.
Some privately chartered flights to Myrtle Beach will continue through the off-season, however.
The suspension of flights is typical of other airlines serving Myrtle Beach during the slowest part of the year, before summer tourism season.
"It's really not a lot different from AirTran, which kind of pulls out for the winter months and focuses on the Southern markets," said Bob Woods, assistant director of Myrtle Beach International Airport. "It's really just a very slow time in Myrtle Beach for these months, and I think most of the airlines have cut back on the number of flights. Spirit [Airlines] does the same thing - they cut way back."
Hooters Air President Mark Peterson said the airline is currently still serving airports in Scranton, Pa., Allentown, Pa., Orlando, Fla., Clearwater/St. Petersburg, Fla., andFort Lauderdale, Fla., and will serve Columbus, Ohio and Gary, Ind. until Jan. 9. Peterson said the airline plans to revive most of its Myrtle Beach routes March 6, although he is not sure if all the routes and schedules will return.
The off-season cutbacks of regularly scheduled flights do not mean that Hooters Air has lost interest in Myrtle Beach as a hub, Peterson said.
Golf industry experts hope the airline follows through on its plans to re-enter the market in time for the Grand Strand's spring golf season.
Mickey McCamish, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday said golfers start coming as early as late February, and the influx gets larger in March.
"My hope would be that Hooters would start back up as soon as possible in the month of March because it is very important to us in the golf industry," McCamish said.
Hooters serves Newark, N.J., which is Myrtle Beach's No. 1 golf market. Others are Baltimore and Pittsburgh, where Hooters also normally flies, McCamish said.
Hooters Air also scaled back last winter. Although the airline didn't entirely suspend flights in the off-season, it only boarded 1,541 passengers in January and 2,121 in February of 2004. By contrast, the airline boarded more than 11,000 passengers in July.
Higher fuel prices forced the airline to trim January and February flights from Myrtle Beach, Peterson said.
"Fuel prices were just about half what they are today a year ago," Peterson said. "Look across the industry. How many airlines are reporting profits?"
Woods said Myrtle Beach International Airport has not heard anything officially from Hooters Air except the airline plans to start back up in March.
Bill Oliver, vice president of The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting and research firm, said stopping flights during the tourism off-season seems reasonable.
"It doesn't make sense to fly aircraft that have a lot of empty seats, particularly with the price of fuel. With the cost of fuel in today's market, you either find a place where you can carry the loads or you don't fly them in the off periods," he said.
Hooters Air was founded by Bob Brooks, a Loris native and chairman of the Hooters restaurant chain, who launched the airline to promote his restaurants and add air service to the Myrtle Beach market.
Since its launch in March 2003, the airline has grown its routes and found a niche in the leisure travel market, adding the first non-stop flights from Myrtle Beach to Nassau, Bahamas.
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The airline currently still serves airports in Scranton, Pa.; Allentown, Pa.; Orlando, Fla.; Clearwater/St. Petersburg, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and will serve Columbus, Ohio, and Gary, Ind., until Jan. 9.
Most of its Myrtle Beach routes should resume by March 6.
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