Milestone for Myrtle Beach International Airport

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach International Airport has surpassed a major milestone, and officials are flying high about it.

Airport officials tell WMBF News that this past year has been the biggest year the airport has ever had.

During a special ceremony held Thursday at the airport, officials announced that 2010 saw the largest number of flyers arriving at MYR. The largest year to date had been 2007 with 839,450 travelers. That record was broken Thursday when passenger of a Spirit airline flight arrive around 1:30 p.m. Official numbers for the year will be released next week after additional arriving passengers on Thursday and Friday are tallied.

"Most markets look at this and say how did you do that," comment airport director Michael La Pier.

He said it has taken teamwork. That teamwork involved an extra penny sales tax passed by Myrtle Beach City Council. The Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce spent that money on marketing, and organizations like Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday have also chipped in to attract visitors.

"To know that that money is being well spent and to know this is a warranted expense and a growing enterprise like the airport is very important to the business community," said the Chamber's immediate past board chairman Brant Branham.

He clearly believes the increase in passengers is a result of those marketing efforts.

Outgoing County Council Chairman Liz Gilland said there are clear reasons to care if the airport is doing well.

"We have more people coming in, so the economy is better as far as tourism goes, and for whatever reason folks that fly in spend noticeably more money than people who drive in," Gilland said.

What many people want to know is if the record year will mean new airlines come knocking. La Pier said the process rarely works like that.

"I don't know that they'll knock on our door, but I can tell you when we're knocking on their door that will be one of the first things out of our mouths," La Pier explained.

He made it clear he and his staff are aggressively trying to add new flights and new airlines. However, it is too soon to tell if the record will be the thing that seals any deals.

"Today's event and the numbers we're announcing today only help fuel that fire as we talk to new airlines."

Officials expect the number of arriving passengers to continue climbing as Myrtle Beach becomes a prime tourist attraction. Airport officials hope to see 1 million flyers pass through MYR in 2011.

Meanwhile, cab services say they are profiting as well as more people continue to fly in and out of Myrtle Beach International. Diamond Cab service has seen a 30 percent increase in its clientele because of airport runs this year.

"Maybe you get an extra run a couple of nights a week that you wouldn't have gotten. And that can mean a big difference," Cab Driver Michael Dickson said. He attributes the increase in flyer to strong the expansion and strong marketing campaign.

"Somebody's doing something right because the overall taxi business is declining, but the airport has picked up," states Dickson.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved.