Study finds bright future for airport

Charleston Post and Courier
John P. McDermott, Staff Writer
February 1, 2001

With a bustling port and a diversified local economy in the backdrop, Charleston International is positioned to be one of the fastest growing U.S. airports, a new study has found.

The Boyd Group projected that passenger traffic will soar nearly 30 percent at Charleston by 2005, giving South Carolina’s busiest airport the 10th highest growth rate in the nation. The Evergreen, Colo.-based aviation consulting and research firm has published its annual forecast, titled “Airports: USA,” since 1992.

“We look at the top 131 airports in the country … and do a bottom-up analysis,” said Mike Boyd, president. “Charleston came up as one of the fastest-growing.” Boyd said his bullish outlook is based largely on the impact the Port of Charleston and related industries have had on the state and local economy, especially since the Navy shipyard closed five years ago.

“A lot of people don’t recognize that one of the things driving air-travel growth there is the fact Charleston has one of the largest container ports in the country,” he said. He cited BMW. The automaker, which opened its only U.S. plant near Greenville in the mid-1990s, has become a big port user.

“International trade alone drives business, and that drives air traffic,” Boyd said. “If you said 20 years ago that you’d be building German cars in South Carolina you’d have had to take a drug test.”

While the rapid deployment of regional jets has yielded more nonstop service at Charleston International, the 50-seat planes have done little to boost traffic, he added. On some routes, the tiny jets have simply replaced bigger aircraft, thereby reducing the availability of low-fare seats, Boyd said. “Regional jets have reduced capacity and flattened growth rates around the country,” he said. “For you, you’ve gotten new service to a couple of places, but overall Charleston has grown in spite of regional jets.”

Sam Hoerter, airports director for the Charleston County Aviation Authority, said Boyd’s prediction of a 29.3 percent growth rate by 2005 “seems reasonable” given recent trends.

As for the airport’s 10th-place ranking, Hoerter said that can only help efforts to recruit more carriers to Charleston and lobby for new service to different cities.

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