LCC-driven growth in South Carolina; legacy carriers push for network changes

Happy Valentine’s Day: This year’s celebration by Southwest crew at Greenville-Spartanburg may lack the sophistication of Spirit’s campaign a year before, but both carriers are jointly driving South Carolina’s traffic with a combined total of 14 new routes launched in 2011 only. Beginning in May, Spirit will also cater for Texan golfers, as it launches a direct service between Dallas/Fort Worth and Myrtle Beach.

A map showing the locations of South Carolina airportsSouth Carolina may not have any major hub airport, but traffic development in the US state is still remarkable. Two of its airports – Charleston (CHS) and Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) – scooped two out of four American ANNIES in the airport traffic growth category. Other airports within the state reported more moderate increases of 2.4% and 1.2% at Columbia (CAE) and Myrtle Beach (MYR) respectively. Although neither Hilton Head (HHH) nor Florence Regional (FLO) have reached the 80,000 annual passenger mark quite yet, each noted growth in excess of 20%, as US Airways expanded its presence at both locations.

2002-2011 South Carolina Traffic Yearly enplanements by airport

Source: RITA BTS, Airport websites

Low-cost expansion remains main growth factor

The two American ANNIES airport winners won thanks to Southwest’s decision to grow in South Carolina. The low-cost carrier launched a combined nine routes to the state last year. New services from Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Houston Hobby and Nashville helped Charleston increase its monthly traffic by 24% over February 2011, while a total of five new routes that started at Greenville-Spartanburg in mid-March brought the airport’s monthly seat capacity up by almost 40%.

Date Airline Destination WF* A/c
Charleston (CHS)
13-Mar-11 Southwest Baltimore/Washington, MD (BWI) 21 B73G
13-Mar-11 Southwest Chicago Midway, IL (MDW) 14 B73G
13-Mar-11 Southwest Houston Hobby, TX (HOU) 7 B73G
13-Mar-11 Southwest Nashville, TN (BNA) 7 B73G
Columbia (CAE)
01-Apr-11 Vision Airlines Ft Walton Beach, FL (VPS) 2 B734
Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP)
01-Feb-11 Allegiant Air Orlando Sanford, FL (SFB) 4 MD80
13-Mar-11 Southwest Baltimore/Washington, MD (BWI) 14 B73G
13-Mar-11 Southwest Chicago Midway, IL (MDW) 14 B73G
13-Mar-11 Southwest Houston Hobby, TX (HOU) 7 B733
13-Mar-11 Southwest Nashville, TN (BNA) 7 B73G
13-Mar-11 Southwest Orlando, FL (MCO) 7 B733
30-Mar-11 Vision Airlines Ft Walton Beach, FL (VPS) 3 B734
Myrtle Beach (MYR)
05-May-11 Spirit Airlines Niagara Falls, NY (IAG) 3 A319
05-May-11 Spirit Airlines Charleston, WV (CRW) 3 A319
05-May-11 Spirit Airlines Latrobe, PA (LBE) 4 A319
05-May-11 Spirit Airlines Plattsburgh, NY (PBG) 4 A319
05-May-11 Spirit Airlines Washington Reagan, DC (DCA) 7 A319
03-May-12 Spirit Airlines Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (DFW) 3 A319
11-Jul-12 Delta New York LaGuardia, NY (LGA) 7 CRJ700
Source: new route database and OAG Schedules iNET
*WF: Weekly Frequency at launch

Myrtle Beach: weak Q2 wipes out growth in 2011; new routes already announced

In spite of reporting record number of passengers in 2011, Myrtle Beach has fallen short of achieving its initial goal of one million, as it improved by only one percentage point over 2010 figures. Notably, first quarter growth of 9% was followed by traffic drops of up to 12% year on year in the second half of 2011, resulting in weak overall growth figures. The declines are attributable to some of the seasonal services starting later and finishing earlier in the year, as airlines such as Allegiant shifted aircraft to different cities.

South Carolina Airports Weekly departing seats by airline

Source: OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 13 February 2012

Delta/US Airways slot-swap affects state; legacy carriers remain strong at Columbia

To-date, Columbia has not been fortunate in retaining budget services and is now South Carolina’s only large airport to be served exclusively by legacy carriers. Both Allegiant and Spirit had served the airport before, but the services have been discontinued. The latest attempt, undertaken by Vision Airlines in mid-2011 and involving Destin-Fort Walton, FL, was cut just over a month after launch. Out of five carriers that currently serve the airport, only Delta and United has scheduled capacity increases, although no new routes have been announced so far.

Notably, Delta and US Airways are the two legacy carriers to see their South Carolina networks change the most, following the recent slot-swap, which involved New York LaGuardia and Washington Reagan. As a result, this summer will see Delta launch a daily service connecting LaGuardia and Myrtle Beach, while US Airways discontinues all three destinations in South Carolina, which included Charleston, Columbia and Greenville-Spartanburg.

Allegiant has operated a number of seasonal routes out of Myrtle Beach since it entered the market in 2009. Even though 2012 will see routes to Grand Rapids, MI and Knoxville, TN fall out of the carrier’s network, the airline will more than double its summer capacity at Myrtle Beach this year, increasing frequencies to the remaining four destinations. Further growth at Myrtle Beach will be partly fuelled by network growth, as it is the first (and currently the only) airport in South Carolina to see new routes announced in 2012.


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