Island airport hits record highs with added carriers, flights

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The wide world of Hilton Head Airport expanded in 2019 with more carriers, more destinations, more total flights, and more direct flights to major cities in the country. "We started 2019 in an all-out sprint, because we knew we were going to transition

The wide world of Hilton Head Airport expanded in 2019 with more carriers, more destinations, more total flights, and more direct flights to major cities in the country.

"We started 2019 in an all-out sprint, because we knew we were going to transition within a few months from a single-carrier airport to three," said Jon Rembold, airport director. "There was no easing into it."

He had been negotiating with United and Delta in 2018 and the carriers began partnering in 2019, joining American Airlines.

"Three carriers and new destinations completely changed the game for us," said Rembold, who became director in 2013.

Turboprops ruled the skies over the island until July 4, 2018, the day before the jets arrived, following the runway expansion from 4,300 feet to 5,000.

The cost of that project, completed in June that year after nine years of planning, was $22 million; the Federal Aviation Administration paid 90 percent of the bill, and the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission and airport, governed by the Beaufort County government, split the remainder.

In 2018, turboprops and jets carried about 79,000 passengers, he said; through November 2019 with an all jet fleet, that number jumped to 215,000.

The airport opened in 1967. For years, Charlotte was the only direct-flight destination. Now, Newark, LaGuardia, Chicago, Atlanta, Dulles and National (in Washington, D.C.) have joined the direct-flight ranks.

"From there, our big selling point is now you can go anywhere in the world with one stop from Hilton Head," Rembold said.

This year's itinerary also will include Philadelphia, Dallas and Fort Worth.

Delta had the most departures from Hilton Head in November with 5,032, followed by American with 4,883, according to the latest data. United had none, because it operates only seasonally. Charlotte is the busiest domestic route.

The design and expansion of the outdated terminal, which was built in 1995 and modified in 2019 to accommodate the additional carriers, increased number of passengers and equipment, is underway, with construction expected to begin this fall. Construction on the "one seamless structure" will take 18 to 24 months to complete, Rembold said.

Project details include:

• Expanding and renovating the commercial service terminal to add four aircraft gates with the ability to expand to six.

• Improving the ticketing, baggage claim and rental car areas.

• Improving and expanding the United Stated Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints.

• Renovating existing restrooms and building new restrooms on both sides of the TSA security checkpoints.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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