Myrtle Beach area businesses back airline incentives

Sept. 10, 2009


Sep. 10--The Horry County Airport Advisory Committee is considering whether to recommend stopping an incentive plan that cuts fees for airlines to bring flights to the area, but business leaders say the incentives are working and should be continued.

Tourism and business leaders spoke in favor of the incentives at Wednesday's advisory committee meeting. The committee asked for proof that the incentives played a part in airline decisions to bring new service or new routes to the area, and business leaders say they have worked.

"We have attracted successful new services at a rate we've never had before," said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. "There are a couple of things that complicate how we quantify whether the incentives are working. We're in the midst of one of the worst economic times in history ... and the sales cycle for this effort is very long. Our metric is new air service, and I'm confident we'll have more announcements before the end of the year."

Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean said Wednesday the fees have helped open up negotiations that resulted in new flights and new discount airline carriers opening routes to Myrtle Beach.

The incentives, started in 2008, include the county reducing landing fees for airlines from $1.97 per 1,000 pounds of landing weight to 50 cents and waiving fees during the tourism off-season of December, January and February. For new nonstop, round-trip service, the airport offered to bill airlines at a flat rate of $2 per available seat in lieu of regular fees, such as terminal rent and security fees.

The Horry County Council approved the fee extension from September to June 30, 2010, last spring. The chamber and Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, a golf marketing group, have spent money advertising the region and the incentives as part of their push for the program.

"We firmly believe [the incentives] have helped us lure additional services. We were talking to Spirit [Airlines] for four or five years about going to Chicago," Dean said Wednesday. "By no means do we want the incentives to become subsidies; we understand that isn't their purpose."

Spirit launched the nonstop daily flight to Chicago O'Hare International Airport March 1.

Airport department spokeswoman Lauren Morris said airlines are not always forthcoming about their reasons for choosing an airport or a flight, or about their reasons for discontinuing a service, so quantifying the effect of the fees is not cut and dry. The incentives are expected to reduce airport revenues between $1.2 million and $1.6 million. The cost last year was about $1.1 million, according to airport records handed out during the meeting.

The new fee cycle began last week and will expire June 30, unless the County Council continues the program. The Airport Advisory Committee will begin work on a recommendation for a plan to wean airlines off the incentives while maintaining current air service.

Contact CLAUDIA LAUER at 626-0301.