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Myrtle Beach International Airport Expansion Moving Along

June 15, 2011

Construction at the Myrtle Beach International Airport is looking up - literally.

Steel beams that will form the structure of a building that eventually will house new ticket counters and baggage pickup are being installed, the first above ground-level construction on the $114 million expansion that started earlier this year. The expansion will add six gates, bringing the total to 13, which tourism promoters say could lead to more air service.

"We are going vertical," Mike Illes, the airport's construction manager, said as he walked toward the steel beams.


The Sun News - A trackhoe removes concrete around the new concourse at the airport as mechanics work on an airliner on the active apron of the airport.CLICK FOR MORE PHOTOS

Construction at Myrtle Beach International
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Passenger traffic increases at Myrtle Beach airport in May

Passenger traffic at Myrtle Beach International Airport was up again in May as more carriers added their summer routes, according to airport statistics released Monday.
About 95,916 passengers flew out of the airport last month, up 1.44 percent from the same month a year ago. For the first five months of 2011, about 302,841 passengers flew out of the airport, up about 5 percent from the same period in 2010, according to the airport.
In May, Spirit Airlines, which added five new routes May 5 including daily service to Washington D.C., carried the most outgoing passengers - 47,454 - followed by US Airways. Allegiant Air also kicked in its seasonal service to half a dozen destinations.

So far, passengers have seen mostly ground work, with shifts in parking and a new entrance road into the airport. Now, attentive passengers will notice the new 210,000-square-foot building taking shape; it will take six months to put up all the steel for the new building. Next week, construction of an overhead bridge connecting the old building and the new one will start.

"They are going to start seeing the building really coming out of the ground," Illes said.

Construction also continues on the extension of Harrelson Boulevard, which ended at the airport, to Kings Highway, which should be finished by year's end.

Thanks in part to the dry weather, work is on track, Illes said.

The expanded airport plans to greet its first passengers in January 2013. The project will be done by the end of 2012, but airport officials don't want to open the new sections amid the busy holiday travel period.

"We are cranking along," airport spokeswoman Lauren Morris said.

The project can be tricky because the construction is happening right next to the airport, which is operating as usual. Officials have tried to stem the affect on passengers by posting signs for road shifts and parking changes and scheduling some of the work - including noisy demolition of a ramp next to the existing building and switches of utilities such as telephone lines - at night after the last passengers of the day have left, Illes said.

Paul and Janet Zurcher of Indiana, who drove to the beach but were picking up relatives flying in Tuesday, missed the signs for short-term parking, but "I just made a U-turn and turned around," Paul Zurcher said. The pair said they are considering flying to Myrtle Beach next time instead of the nearly 14-hour drive.

Several locals at the airport Tuesday said they were looking forward to the bigger airport.

"I'm excited for it," said Amy Skipper of Socastee, who was waiting for relatives to arrive. "It will bring more people in, more airlines in and help Myrtle Beach grow."

The expanded terminal could be the ticket to more air service, airport and tourism officials say. Most Grand Strand vacationers drive here, so tourism promoters say they see the chance to grow if new routes can be added that make it easier for potential tourists outside the typical drive market to get here.

"They've made terrific progress so far," Nora Hembree, spokeswoman for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said of construction. "The expansion of the airport is one major component of being able to expand existing service or bring in new service. It is crucial to building our tourism economy."

Hembree couldn't give a specific destination that would be first on the chamber's list of places it wants new air service, but said cities outside the six- to eight-hour drive market would be ideal.

"We start losing the potential visitor who doesn't want to take that drive [if it is more than eight hours]," Hembree said.

Troy Thompson of Harrisburg, Pa., drove to Myrtle Beach for vacation, but was at the airport Tuesday picking up a relative. He said the construction didn't cause problems for him.

"It's not that busy of an airport," Thompson said.

In May, the number of passengers was up at the airport compared to the same month last year, fueled in part by the start of routes to five new destinations May 5 on Spirit Airlines, including daily service to Washington, D.C., and the restart of Allegiant Air's service to about a half-dozen destinations later in the month. About 95,916 passengers flew out of the airport last month, up about 1.44 percent over May 2010, according to airport statistics

For the first five months of 2011, 302,841 passengers flew out of the airport, up about 5 percent from the same period in 2010, according to airport statistics. The airport aims to have another record-breaking year, with the goal of serving 1 million passengers in 2011, a goal Morris said is reasonable. Last year, a record 867,106 passengers flew out of the airport.
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