The newly expanded Charleston International Airport continues to deliver record passenger counts, a number expected to keep climbing in 2017 as airlines add new routes and bigger planes.

Charleston airport

A record number of passenger flew in and out of Charleston International Airport in 2016. File/Dave Munday/Staff

Last year, 3.7 million ticket holders, the highest ever, flew in and out of the state's busiest airport, according to Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees the recently refurbished terminal.

That's 8.4 percent higher than in 2015. The airport has now reported six straight years of passenger gains, or an 83 percent jump since 2010.

"It's a fascinating time at the authority today," said Hernan Pena, vice president of engineering.

The number of passengers could reach 4 million in 2017, according to airport CEO Paul Campbell.

"We are already at 2025 projections for passenger traffic," Pena said.

Helping to boost the number of fliers last year was expanded airline services, along with five new gates and other improvements added during the recently completed $200 million terminal makeover.

JetBlue Airways added a second daily nonstop flight to Boston and a third flight to Washington's Reagan National Airport while Southwest Airlines launched Saturday-only flights to Denver. Starting June 4, Dallas-based Southwest will fly nonstop to Denver seven days a week.

Also coming up this year, Southwest will add weekend service to St. Louis in June. In the spring, American Airlines will go from 18 to 23 flights a day, increasing mainline flights to its Charlotte hub and doubling seat capacity to Dallas-Fort Worth. 

In addition, American will add two more daily nonstop flights to Philadelphia and one to Miami.

The growth in passengers has airport officials looking ahead at the possible construction of a third concourse. Work on a second parking deck is expected to start later this year behind the existing garage.

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The Aviation Authority was looking last fall at adding two parking facilities - one for passengers next to the current deck and one for rental cars in an outlying lot, but Walter Hundley, who chairs the committee overseeing car operations, said it most likely will be one new deck built so it can withstand two more floors in the future if needed.

"The only way to keep up is to anticipate it," Hundley said.

Driving passenger demand is Charleston's strong tourism market and continued growth in aerospace, transportation and technology sectors, according to airport officials.

The airport pumps more than $1 billion into the local economy through jobs at the terminal and others created by visiting travelers, according to the Aviation Authority.

Also, Campbell said the agency he oversees has transformed Mount Pleasant Regional Airport, which the authority took over two years ago, into a profitable asset, bringing in about $250,000 in revenue.

He also reported that advertising revenue is returning to the main airport now that terminal redevelopment is completed. Charleston International projects about $1.2 million in revenue through June if all the advertising opportunities are sold. About $300,000 has materialized so far.

In addition, board member Margaret Seidler noted the memorial inside the terminal to the nine Bible study members killed at Emanuel AME Church in 2015 will likely be dedicated in late March.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or