More tourists, business travelers and new residents will nearly double the existing number of passengers at Charleston International to almost 8 million by 2028.
That's the projection laid out Monday by Doug Boston, the finance director of Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees the state's busiest airport.
The number of people flying out of Charleston near the end of the next decade is forecast to swell to more than 3.9 million from about 2.1 million last year. Doubling those figures to account for a roughly equal number of arriving ticket holders brings the projection to nearly 8 million passengers by the late 2020s.
The expected growth means the airport terminal and parking options have to continue to expand as the Charleston region's allure for leisure travelers and big businesses continues to escalate along with newcomers moving to the region at an average rate of about 26 per day, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.
"This is our blessing and our curse," Boston said. "In eight years, we doubled in size. Doubling in size over the next 10 years is conceivable and plausible."
Among the new projects travelers will see over the next 10 years is a new wing, or concourse. Design work will begin in a few months, and it could call for anywhere from two to six new gates, according to airport deputy director Hernan Pena.
"We just don't know for sure yet," he said.
The airport's rental car parking area would be displaced by the addition and moved to a 3,005-space garage that is under construction.
Also on the way is an expansion of the ticket counter space into a parking lot for employees. The airport is currently served by nine airlines with some of them sharing counter space.
As new air service options expand, the airport needs to be ready to have a place for them to check in passengers and luggage, CEO Paul Campbell said.
The airport wanted to begin preliminary design work on expanding the ticket counter space last fall, but it had to switch gears in October when British Airways announced it would launch nonstop flights to London.
Several projects, including a new kitchen and an upgrade of the customs area, had to be constructed to get ready for the new carrier, which began service in April.
Another project is the relocation of the staging area for taxis and ride-sharing providers from beside the air cargo terminal to what is now a wooded stretch along International Boulevard next to the cell phone waiting parking lot and Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner assembly campus.
The move is meant to prevent the for-profit car services from making an extra trip in front of the passenger terminal, which they do now to make it to the staging area.
"It's been designed, and the permit is expected this summer," Pena said of the new parking area. "Hopefully, we will have it done by November."
Also in the wings is the relocation of the entrance road to the airport. It's been in the works for several years to replace International Boulevard with a new road leading from the airport exit loop, across Michaux Parkway, and connecting with Interstate 526 near Montague Avenue.
The project, which could be completed in four years, hinges on the interstate intersection, which Campbell said could delay the timetable for completion.
The vision plan for 2028 also shows an extension of Concourse A, which now has five gates used mainly by Delta Air Lines. But that extension is a last resort since it could interfere with taxiing aircraft from Boeing.
Plans also show a third parking deck next to the second one. It could be built, based on passenger demand, at some future point.
"We want to be proactive in planning and development," Pena said. "In the airport business, the growth can catch up and lead you into trouble if you are not prepared."
A spending outlay has only been provided for the new parking deck at close to $90 million. The other projects have not been designed or funded.