Charleston International smashed its previous record for arrivals and departures, ending 2018 with a double-digit gain in passengers.
According to the final count, nearly half a million more travelers flew in and out of the state's busiest airport last year compared to the previous 12 months, setting a new all-time high of 4.47 million
The number of ticket holders climbed 12.1 percent, even though Charleston International was shut down four days in January 2018 because of a snowstorm and three days in September as a hurricane loomed offshore.
Along with existing carriers adding new route options, discount carriers Frontier and Allegiant landed at the airport for the first time last year offering new destinations.
Passenger numbers could climb even higher in 2019.
“New carriers, additional destinations and larger aircraft on existing routes signal a positive future,” airport CEO Paul Campbell said.
In April, British Airways will launch the first scheduled nonstop international flight between Charleston and London on a Boeing 787. That will bring to nine the number of carriers serving Charleston. Others include Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United.
Charleston International's passenger growth has more than doubled since 2010, the result of the region’s growing tourism, business and manufacturing sectors and influx of new residents.
To meet the surging number of people who are using the airport, officials will begin building a 3,005-space, five-tier parking deck in February behind the existing garage.
To help pay for the $88 million project, the Charleston County Aviation Authority raised $64.7 million through a bond sale last week. The amount borrowed was lower than a previous estimate of $72 million partly because the interest rate on the debt improved to 3.83 percent at closing.
“The rating agencies applauded the airport’s impressive growth trend, stable leadership and solid financial management, and the market responded favorably...,” said Sam Howell, the airport authority’s bond attorney. “Investor demand exceeded our expectations and resulted in improved financing terms.”
Board chairman Walter Hundley said the bonding measure allows the airport to enter the next phase of its master plan.
“We have experienced incredible growth in passenger traffic," he said. "Our commitment is to ensure our infrastructure keeps pace with demand.”
Future improvements recently mentioned include expanding the airline ticket counter and eventually adding a third concourse in the rental car lot. Rental cars will move to the ground floor of the new parking deck when it's completed.