Aviation authority approves budget

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published May 16, 2013

The Charleston County Aviation Authority board approved a $30.5 million budget that includes a modest increase in revenues during a board meeting today.

The board approved the budget unanimously in a motion that also asked airport staff to prepare a more detailed budget next year broken down by department for review. The Finance Committee gave the budget initial approval Wednesday and sent it to the full authority for approval today.

The budget expects 2.7 million passengers will travel through Charleston International Airport during fiscal year 2014. Operating revenues are expected to increase by 1.5%, while expenses are expected to increase by 6.4%. Staff stressed the revenues projection is a conservative estimate. The budget also calls for a 3% pay-for-performance raise for airport employees plus a boost in life insurance from $10,000 worth of coverage to $50,000 worth. It increased by about $500,000 year over year, and it goes into effect July 1, when the authority’s fiscal year begins.

“I think it’s a great budget,” said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who sits on the Finance Committee and the aviation authority, on Wednesday. “I hope we can approve it so it can get before the full authority tomorrow and keep the process on track.”

Airport Director Sue Stevens also briefed board members on how Charleston is faring in general aviation trends throughout the country.

Stevens said small airports have been losing air service since 2007 because of the economic downturn and changes in the commercial airline industry. Columbia Metropolitan Airport’s seat capacity has declined 23.3% since 2007, while Myrtle Beach International Airport’s seat capacity has declined 9.2% since then.

Charleston’s airport, though, has seen its seat capacity increase by 9.2% since 2007. Stevens said seat capacity is an important measure because more seats gives travelers more options when booking flights.

“I think that says a lot about our market and the health of our local economy as well as the health of our airport,” Stevens said. “Overall, we’ve added 274,000 seats to our market.”

Seat capacity is up by 17% so far year over year, Stevens said, in part because of JetBlue’s entry into the Lowcountry, which brought more than 100,000 available seats.

Overall traffic is up 13% year over year, and the airport has 18 daily, nonstop destinations.

“We truly are a rising tide,” Stevens said. “JetBlue is the most recent example. Because of all the positive things that are going on in the Charleston area, we see an increase in activity.”

Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.

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