Charleston International Airport is “booming” as it enjoys more passengers, increased air carriers and a growing local economy.
How Charleston compares
ENPLANEMENTS AVERAGE 1-WAY FARE AIRPORT 2011 2012 2011 2012Charleston 1.1 million 1.3 million $209 $205Greenville/Sp 652,970 818,690 $186 $186Savannah 726,540 688,430 $205 $231Myrtle Beach 697,710 674,720 $117 $124Columbia 411,060 422,660 $250 $250Charleston County Aviation Authority; Data Base Products; Mead & Hunt
That’s the assessment director Sue Stevens gave Tuesday in her year-end review as the state’s busiest airport prepares for a nearly $200 million makeover of its aging terminal.
“We are in very good shape (financially),” Stevens said. “The airport economy is booming, it should only get better.”
Charleston International saw 1.3 million departing passengers for its year that ended June 30, up by nearly 200,000 over the previous year. The 27-year-old terminal also witnessed a five-year increase in boarding passengers of 7 percent while the national average has declined just under 1 percent, Stevens said.
It now sits among the top 100 airports for originating domestic passengers, at No. 86. Greenville-Spartanburg airport comes in at No. 100.
Charleston International’s operating revenue increased by $2 million to nearly $28 million last year, and for the first time money made from parking — $8.7 million — outpaced rental car revenues of $8.6 million. Parking fees did not increase last year.
Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines started serving Charleston in 2011, helping to boost the airport’s passenger volume and revenues. In February, discount carrier JetBlue Airways will fly in with three more daily flights to New York and Boston.
At the same time that Charleston has gained stature in the aviation world, neighboring airports in Myrtle Beach and Savannah lost passengers last year.
Asked by Charleston County Aviation Authority member Andy Savage why the airport is doing so much better than others, Stevens summed it up in one word: “Charleston.”
Charleston’s cachet is now known worldwide.
Last year, it was the No. 1 tourist city in the U.S., according to readers of Conde Nast travel magazine, and this year readers voted it the No. 1 tourist city on the globe. Also, Charleston’s diverse economy, led by Boeing Co.’s sprawling jetliner manufacturing plant next to the airport, continues to expand.
“We have an in-migration of people, good demographics and business growth,” Stevens said.
She cautioned, however, that the airport will experience growing pains, both in terms of the terminal and personnel, and is already looking ahead with three- and five-year plans to meet its staffing needs.
The airport is well on its way to addressing the increased growth that’s expected over the next 20 years, when the passenger count could double.
Major work on updating and increasing the size of the terminal will begin in the spring and should be completed by late 2014.
The board will meet Thursday to decide how to finance the extensive overhaul of its outmoded terminal. The money — $199 million — is expected to come mostly from borrowing by issuing bonds and using funds from its airport-imposed fee of $4.50 per departing passenger.
Charleston International has about $15 million in debt, a low amount for an airport its size, Stevens said. The airport also maintains a high credit rating, which should help lower the cost of borrowing. Only 15 airports have a higher rating, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.