MYR sees big drop in passengers

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Myrtle Beach International Airport is experiencing a big drop in the number of travelers flying in and out.

According to airport records, almost 25 percent fewer people used the airport in May when compared with May last year.

Traveler Terry Newcomb says she and her family are flying less as a result of the bad economy, and believes others may be doing the same.

"I just think people aren't taking as many vacations," Newcomb said. "I know me and my family and friends we aren't taking as many vacations, we're doing things more closer to home because of the air prices and gas prices especially."

Newcomb's sentiment is tough news for Myrtle Beach Airport officials, who are seeing 13 percent fewer flyers from January to May this year when compared with the same span in 2011.  The airport has seen drops in the number of passengers every month this year except February.

Fewer fliers may be what caused airlines like Spirit and Vision Airlines to drop many flights to big destinations like Washington DC, Niagara Falls and Nashville.  Myrtle Beach International Airport Director Mike La Pier says the reduction in Spirit flights made a big impact on the airport's passenger numbers.

"Spirit's capacity year over year in the market is down 15 percent from last year," La Pier said. "When you look at the numbers, it's not that we're losing passengers, it's that we're losing seats."

La Pier says the loss of the low cost charter airline Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying in March and filed for bankruptcy, is also contributing to the drops in passengers.  Direct Air made up about 9 percent of the airport's total air traffic; a loss they still have not recovered from in terms of numbers or good will.

"The direct air experience didn't help with the perception of the reliability of the carriers that aren't the main line legacy carriers," La Pier said.

La Pier says there is not much that can be done to make up for the losses this year, but he is banking on Vision Airlines, which he says is already showing strong numbers for July, to help make up the difference.

La Pier says he also hopes they can convince other carriers to bring back some of the flights they dropped by the time travel season rolls around next year.

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