July 25, 2008

Terminal Tweaks Unveiled: Public Meeting Reveals Design Sketches, Raises Airport Issues

By Mike Cherney, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Jul. 25--Planners for the expansion of the passenger terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport unveiled eight potential designs for the project Thursday, but more work must be done before a final concept is chosen.

The proposals include tacking new gates to the end of the current terminal and constructing an entirely new terminal next to the old one.

A major consideration will be keeping the current terminal open while constructing any addition, planners said.

How much of the existing terminal would have to be brought up to current building codes is another issue, said Rick Ott, a senior executive vice president with M.B. Kahn Construction Co., the firm managing the project for Horry County, which runs the airport.

It would cost $265 per square foot to renovate the 155,000 square feet at the current terminal, Ott said.

Some renovations would probably have to be made because the ticketing lobby and security screening areas are too small, he said.

"You have put off this terminal expansion for a lot longer than you should have," Ott said during a public meeting attended by public officials and local residents.

Another consideration is whether Myrtle Beach business groups hope to attract international flights and tourists, Ott said. Processing international passengers would require a separate area in a new terminal.

"I would dare say that Myrtle Beach has made the investment in infrastructure, in both hotels and theme parks, to become an international and national destination," Ott said. "If you get those people here, they're going to end up coming through this airport."

The county will hold public input sessions in August on the terminal project, and Ott said he plans to go before Horry County Council in October or November with more details on one or two of the best designs.

Consultants say that to keep up with demand, the terminal will have to grow from seven gates to 15 gates by 2025. That figure is based on passenger forecasts released by the Federal Aviation Administration late last year.

Bob Anderson, a principal with The LPA Group, said Myrtle Beach is the second-busiest S.C. airport, but is short on gates. Charleston, which had more outgoing passengers in 2007, has 10 gates. Greenville and Columbia have 13 and 12 gates, respectively.

He also noted that from 1997 to 2007 -- when the airport had 844,000 outgoing passengers -- Myrtle Beach's passenger traffic grew by 60 percent.

This year through June, Anderson said passenger counts were down 1 percent from last year.

Not everyone at the meeting agreed the terminal expansion is necessary. Doug Decker, a retired engineer who lives in Pawleys Island, pointed out growth was vastly slower between 2000 and 2007.

In addition, he said now was not the time to be building a new terminal as the oil crisis forces airlines to cut routes. The FAA forecasts were conducted before this year's fuel prices skyrocketed, he said.

United Airlines announced recently they would be cutting some service to Myrtle Beach, but Anderson noted that United made up less than 5 percent of passenger traffic at the airport in 2007.

Contact MIKE CHERNEY at 444-1765.


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