Myrtle Beach, S.C., Airport to Get New Terminal

The terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport is slated to be replaced with a larger, flashier building in the next couple of years, but the aging facility might have a second life.

Horry County's 128,000-square-foot terminal will be considered for a variety of new uses now that it is becoming too cramped for the area's surging air traffic, including international air-carrier operations and a federal Transportation Security Administration training center.

The possibilities are still wide open as the county spends most of its energy planning a new terminal, which will cost at least $200 million and might open in 2008. A study on use of the existing terminal is planned but not yet started.

"It will be definitely be used, with a high-value use, simply because of its location," County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said.

Speculation on the facility's future began after the county omitted a customs operation from the new terminal plans. The move was designed to keep costs down until more funding becomes available, but it caused concern at Hooters Air, a local airline with plans to expand its international services at Myrtle Beach International.

The company has suggested the old terminal be used for international traffic. It is equipped for customs services.

"We've informally had discussions and proposed that as an alternative," Hooters Air President Mark Peterson said.

More space and international facilities are crucial to the future of the airport, Peterson said, though it is now unclear how the county will pay for customs operations.

County Council has said it will add features to its terminal plans when money becomes available, including customs. The federal funding outlook will be better known this fall.

The international terminal suggestion would require a split in domestic and international operations that could reduce flexibility and increase costs for passengers, according to information supplied by county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.

For example, the airport would need to transport international passengers from the old terminal to the new complex across the tarmac to catch a domestic connecting flight.

The plan would require "extensive cost and feasibility analyses," Bourcier wrote in an e-mail to The Sun News.

Options for the terminal include air cargo, corporate aviation, commercial office space and federal uses, according to Bourcier.

Gilland said the county has suggested to Congress that the terminal could be used as a national training center for employees at the Transportation Security Administration, the agency created in the wake of the 2001 terrorism attacks to oversee security at U.S. airports.

"That is probably a long shot, but it is a great idea," Gilland said.

Councilman John Boyd said it is certain the terminal will not be torn down.

He said: "Certainly there are possibilities of dealing with freight agencies ... that would need the cargo space and maintenance there."