Myrtle Beach receives N.Y. kudos
By Monique Newton
Several area leaders traveled to Niagara Falls, N.Y., Friday after Myrtle Beach was honored for boosting the traffic to Niagara Falls International Airport and demonstrating the need for building a new and improved terminal there.
Lawmakers and officials from Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority say that once the Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air started flying passengers to and from Niagara Falls in 2007, the number of passengers tripled, helping convince officials to move forward with the $31.5 million project.
It replaces a small, antiquated terminal that was built in the '40s, said New York State Sen. George Maziarz, who represents the Niagara Falls area.
The Federal Aviation Administration looks at purpose and need when deciding whether to provide funding for terminal projects, and the need was lacking before Direct Air started flying out, said Bill Vanecek, director of aviation for NFTA.
"When we didn't have a lot of passengers flying in and out of it, they said, 'Why do you need it?'" Vanecek said. "Their presence and their start-up of the operation helped us to get to that point."
Since the airline started flying out of Niagara Falls, nearly 100,000 passengers have traveled there, with many coming from Myrtle Beach International Airport, he said.
"It's a team effort," said Ed Warneck, president and managing partner of Direct Air. "Had we not had presented a destination that had great appeal, we would not have the tens of thousands of Canadians that spill across the border to come down to fly the planes along with the people from New York."
A few Myrtle Beach and Horry County officials joined dozens of other passengers as they flew into the old Niagara Falls terminal for the last time, and in the evening, became some of the first to fly out of the new Niagara Falls terminal, which includes two gates, curbside check-in, a federal inspection station, eight stationary ticket counter stations, free wireless Internet access and a tourist information counter.
"We are well-acquainted with the struggles of building a new terminal. Fortunately, ours is on the right track now," said Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland. "They're a little bit ahead of us, but it is a wonderful thing to have someone else give us a bit of credit for helping with their terminal, and of course, it's folks from Niagara Falls and the other destinations that are coming here that will help us and have helped us express a need and show a need for a new terminal coming here."
In October, the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board approved the footprint for an expansion at Myrtle Beach International Airport, which allowed for site work to begin on the $130 million expansion.
Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace said he was honored that Myrtle Beach was popular enough to influence whether the Niagara Falls airport received a new terminal.
"If you travel around Myrtle Beach, especially during this time of year, you'll see a lot of folks from New York state and Canadians here," he said.
"It's a thrill for me that we're having that big of an impact up there."
On Friday, the Myrtle Beach representatives also met with leaders in Niagara Falls to hold the first of many focus groups that will work to foster cross-promotion between the destinations, Warneck said.
In November, 3,232 people stepped off a Direct Air flight at Myrtle Beach International Airport, according to data from the Horry County Department of Airports. It is the third-largest carrier at the airport.
Direct Air flies to Niagara Falls; Pittsburgh; Newark, N.J.; Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Springfield, Ill.; Columbus, Ohio; and Worcester, Mass