Airport expansion project on target for 2013 opening

The number of people flying into and out of Myrtle Beach International Airport is up once again.

More than 122,000 people flew out of Myrtle Beach in July, up 10.5 percent over last July.

The number of passengers flying into Myrtle Beach was up six percent from July, 2010 to more than 124,000.

The numbers are also up for the year. So far, about nine percent more people have flown out of the airport than this time last year and almost eight percent more flew in.

Airport officials say those numbers justify the need for a new airport terminal. The $118 million airport expansion project is well underway and scheduled to be finished by late next year.

Nearly 900,000 people flew out of this airport last year, with airport officials estimating that number may top a million this year and it's why they say the new addition, which will nearly double the size of the existing terminal, is badly needed.

Outside the terminal, the signs of construction are obvious. Inside, they're more subtle, like a new set of chairs.

The airport is testing several models to see which will work best in the new terminal.

Constructing a new terminal, while handling a record number of passengers in the old one, has created challenges, including sometimes boarding passengers from ground level, instead of through a jet bridge.

"We've been doing some ground loading, which is not that unfamiliar to people but, the larger aircraft we generally try to find a gate and we just haven't been able to do that in some circumstances," said airport marketing director Lauren Morris.

There have been parking issues, too, Morris said, with some cars having to move to overflow lots, but those are temporary issues.

Morris said, when the terminal is complete, it will help solve the airport's current overcrowding problems.

"Areas where we have the biggest challenges is the traffic flow, the ticketing, the baggage, and that's going to be expanded, so it'll provide for more room for folks, more passenger screening, which is some of the challenges we're having now."

The new terminal will add six new gates to the current seven and about 200,000 square feet of space. Morris said the project is on time within budget.

While work continues, she said crews will try to schedule construction to have as little impact on current airport operations as possible.

"And moving them to areas, after Labor Day perhaps when we're not seeing as much passenger activity, so we really have tried to do that as best we can when we can do it."

Morris said the weather has been favorable for construction this year, with few delays. If that continues, the new terminal will open on schedule in January, 2013.

The separate expansion of Harrelson Boulevard, which leads to the airport, is scheduled to be finished by late this year.