Myrtle Beach Airport Breaks Passenger Record in July

'It's a reflection of the continuing growth of air traffic in Myrtle Beach and the increasing popularity of Myrtle Beach as a destination.'

Bob Kemp, airport director

Myrtle Beach International Airport boarded more than 90,000 passengers in July, making it the busiest month in the airport's almost 30-year history.

"It's a reflection of the continuing growth of air traffic in Myrtle Beach and the increasing popularity of Myrtle Beach as a destination," airport Director Bob Kemp said.

There were 93,258 boarding passengers at the airport last month, a 7.5 percent increase over July 2004.

July also was the strongest month at the airport in 2004, when it saw 86,751 boarding passengers.

Tourism experts say the record in part was driven by an increase in nonstop flights and the growing number of visitors who come from areas too far away to drive from.

"I think that it says a lot about the swing in our vacation demographics," said Jean Anne Brakefield, vice president of the Myrtle Beach Area Convention Bureau. "As time goes on, we'll see more people flying into Myrtle Beach and using our airport, moving away somewhat from it being such a drive-in market."

Brakefield said she thinks Myrtle Beach as a destination is undergoing a change.

"The more visitors that we bring in from places that aren't as close or markets that aren't as familiar are more likely to use our airport, as opposed to driving in," Brakefield said.

Low-fare carriers at the airport, including AirTran, Hooters Air and Spirit Airlines are also part of the airport's attraction.

"It's still a buyer's market out there. That's what's driving traffic," said Bill Oliver, vice president of The Boyd Group, a Colorado-based airline consulting company.

Hooters Air moved up as the fourth-busiest airline at the Myrtle Beach International Airport in July, with 11,055 boarding passengers.

Hooters Air President Mark Peterson said the two-year-old airline more than doubled its growth in the past year.

AirTran, which flies more often than Hooters, boarded 11,491 passengers in July and was the airport's third-busiest carrier.

Spirit, the airport's second-busiest carrier, boarded 18,297 passengers in July, and US Airways was the No. 1 carrier with 25,478 boarding passengers.

"The airport is an asset to the tourism industry right now," said Mickey McCamish, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

"When you have direct flights, it puts us on a level playing field with our competition.

"It removes that barrier of connecting air service through Atlanta or Charlotte that we all like to avoid. It makes it more convenient for the golfer," he said.

McCamish said between 40 percent and 50 percent of golfers coming to Myrtle Beach arrive by air.

Kemp said there are times of day when the airport is extremely busy.

All of the airport's counter space is full.

"The lines are longer than we'd like them to be," Kemp said. "The growth just reaffirms the need for additional terminal facilities."

A new, 14-gate terminal with room for expansion is planned to open opposite the current terminal by 2008.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press