Airport flying high

Charleston International Airport’s budget reflects “growth and expansion of the Charleston region,” Airports Director Sue Stevens said.

Charleston International Airport will raise more money and spend more money next year, all without any local tax revenues or any user-fee increases on parking or airline passengers.

The spending plan for Charleston County Aviation Authority will jump 28.3 percent to $35.1 million when the new budget year begins July 1.

It’s all being done courtesy of the ballooning number of passengers flying through the state’s busiest airline terminal.

The number of fliers in and out of Charleston, up 33 percent over last year, is expected to reach 2.6 million by June 30, when the authority’s current fiscal year ends.

That number will eclipse the previous record of 2.4 million set in 2008 just as financial markets collapsed and led to curtailments in business and tourist travel.

“The budget is a reflection of the growth and expansion of the Charleston region,” Airports Director Sue Stevens told the board Tuesday. “The level of business activity, in combination with Charleston’s No. 1 rating for tourism, has resulted in substantial increases to passenger activity at Charleston International Airport.”

The increase in passengers will produce 10.5 percent more revenue from concessions, rental-car activity and parking at the airport, Stevens said. Nearly 75 percent of the airport’s revenue comes from those three sources. The rest comes from fuel storage, landing fees and other items.

The growth also will cost the airport 6.8 percent more if the budget is approved to add four new employees to the current 145, figure in adjustments to the pay scale and spend more for increased utility costs, goods and services. Parking fees will remain the same as will the passenger facility charge of $4.50 tacked onto passengers’ tickets. The airport started collecting the passenger fee, the maximum allowed by federal law, in 2010 to help prepare for the estimated $150 million terminal redevelopment project that will start later this year. It’s expected to generate $5 million next year.

Borrowing money by issuing bonds and securing federal grants will help pay for the terminal makeover. The Aviation Authority does not collect any tax revenue from county residents to operate its three airports. A small portion of the proposed budget will go toward the terminal-expansion project, which will be paid for over several years.

The airport board is expected to vote on whether to approve the spending plan for 2012-13 on Thursday.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or