Airport forecasts passenger growth to continue next year

Travelers stand inside the new rental car pavilion at Charleston International Airport.

Construction upheaval at Charleston International Airport is expected to have little effect on passenger demand next year.

With the terminal in the throes of a $200 million makeover, airport officials expect passenger growth to continue. That will propel the Charleston County Aviation Authority's spending plan for next year to grow by 8.1 percent to $33 million without any fee increases, Finance Director Judi Olmstead said.

The airport board is expected Thursday to sign off on the 2014-15 budget, which begins in July.

Part of the expected growth in passengers will come from JetBlue Airways, Airports Director Paul Campbell said. The carrier will add two daily flights to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., starting June 19.

The airport estimates a record of nearly 2.9 million passengers through June of this year, up 14.5 percent over the previous budget year.

"We will probably have 10 or 11 percent increase in growth next year," Campbell said.

Revenue from rental cars and parking fees continues to be two of the top sources of income at the airport, Olmstead said.

Rental car activity income is expected to rise 6.25 percent to $5.1 million, and parking revenue should increase 13.4 percent to $9.3 million, she said.

Campbell expects terminal construction to be about 80 percent finished by next May, which could help spur increased consumer spending as more concessions open. The airport overhaul is set for completion in September 2015, a month later than projected because of the discovery of asbestos inside some walls.

Because of the ongoing expansion and renovation of the airport, income from concessions is expected to be flat. Some of the shops have been dismantled and combined with other retail outlets during construction, while others have moved into small kiosks.

The airport also earns revenue from leased property, but it will see a decrease after the S.C. Research Authority moves to Summerville in October to make way for Boeing's expansion, and because Boeing, through the state, bought the land where the SCRA sits, Olmstead said.

Some of the money will be made up from a projected increase in rental car use. The airport levies a charge of $3.50 per day on rental car customers. That's projected to bring in an additional $300,000, but it will be partially offset by the loss of rental property revenue, she said.

Among other budget highlights, three new positions are requested. They include a staff attorney, legal assistant and maintenance planner.

The budget also includes $1.1 million for new furniture for the terminal upgrade.

The Aviation Authority also owns and manages Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island and Mount Pleasant Regional Airport. The budget includes apron work and maintenance at both airfields.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or