COLUMBIA, SC — After dipping to a 10-year low in 2011, passenger traffic at Columbia Metropolitan Airport rebounded in 2012, topping the 1 million mark and climbing to a three-year high.
Cargo shipped out of the airport also rose in 2012, airport officials said, increasing about 11 percent to 32,265 tons last year from 28,812 tons in 2011.
Both numbers are signs of economic recovery. Annual passenger and cargo counts are considered among the top barometers of a healthy airports operation.
Really, in this business, any increase we get excited about it, said Lynne Douglas, Columbia airport spokeswoman, particularly with all the changes in recent years, with the economy, with people cutting back in air travel there for a while, and all the changes in air travel. Were pleased with this increase.
After serving an all-time high 1.5 million travelers in 2005, the airports passenger count had dipped below the status point 1 million mark in 2011 the first time since 2002.
Roughly 15,500 more passengers used the airport last year than in 2011, when 999,213 people flew through the facility, registering a 1.55 percent increase, the report said.
Meanwhile, more than 33,000 tons of air cargo was unloaded at the Columbia airport in 2012, up from 31,841 tons that arrived in 2011, airport officials said.
While the airport does not track the source of cargo exiting through the facility, online retailer Amazon, which opened a 1.2- million-square-foot distribution center in Cayce in 2011, is likely a big contributing factor to the airports 11 percent increase in outgoing cargo traffic last year, Douglas said.
Passenger and cargo counts reveal pertinent trends and measure an airports growth, airport officials said. However, 1 million passengers or more a year is also a benchmark many air carriers use in determining where to locate, said Ike McLeese, president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
The ability to move people and product within and in and out of the community is absolutely essential to maintaining healthy economic growth, recruiting new companies here, expansion of existing business its critical, McLeese said. And its critical to the military to get their people in and out.
Airport officials have estimated 18 percent to 25 percent of their traffic is military related, McLeese said. A healthy airport is vital to keeping military missions in the Midlands as the federal government considers massive spending cuts.
The big thing that is really important for us is the passenger numbers, Douglas said. We had a good year.
Some S.C. airports did not.
The Myrtle Beach International Airport, for instance, experienced a 15 percent drop in both the number of people who boarded and exited planes in the resort city last year, reports stated. But airlines that service the airport are adding flights this year, rather than cutting back, airport officials there have told local media.
The airlines that service Columbia should be given credit for the increasing success the Columbia airport experienced in 2012, both Douglas and McLeese said.
A lot of the increase is that were seeing the airlines here in Columbia step up and increase their service, Douglas said. Particularly, Delta Airlines has added in some larger aircraft, which certainly accounts for the capability to carry more people.
Larger aircraft has been an issue at the Columbia airport, Douglas said, in that there has long been a shortage of seats out of the city, she said. Community leaders have long sounded the alarm for increased capacity, too.
I think its more than just the economy getting better, McLeese said of the airports 2012 positive growth trend. I think it is due to the aggressive marketing that (airport director) Dan Mann and his staff have engaged in.
Airport officials undertook a business community survey that looked at who uses the Columbia airport and how much leakage there is to nearby Charlotte, McLeese said, then used the results to persuade Delta to add larger planes here. Delta responded and theyre filling those seats, which proved the point that if the airlines would provide better service, people would use the Columbia airport and the leakage to Charlotte would be reduced.
For the past two years, the Columbia airport also has undertaken a visible public advertising campaign using billboards, print media, radio and television to promote the airports viability to the traveling public.
The airports Fly With Ease campaign reminds people the airport is here, said Kaela Harmon, the airports public relations and government affairs manager, and keeps it at the tip of travelers mental awareness.