Saturday, May 10, 2014

Florence Regional Airport (KFLO), South Carolina: Boardings down, but prognosis good

FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence Regional Airport has been a one-carrier airstrip since Delta packed its bags at the beginning of 2011.

Enplanements in 2010 in Florence set a record, topping more than 80,000. Florence Regional Airport Director Chuck Henderson said while the drop in boardings since then has been appreciable, he and other airport officials remain bullish on the airport’s future but know there is work to be done.

“Over the past four to five years (since Delta left), the numbers have declined, but overall we’ve seen a long-term annual growth rate of 2 percent,” he said.

Currently, US Airways, soon to be American Airlines, only flies to Charlotte out of Florence. On average there are about five flights that come into the Florence airport, with 70 percent of seats filled on each flight. He said U.S. Airways would like to see that number closer to 75 percent. To make that happen, Henderson said he plans to work with the airline to market Florence more aggressively, reduce cancellations, control schedules and equipment issues.

“We need to ask ourselves if (the airport) is doing everything in our control to be as competitive an air service alternative as we can by maintaining our facilities, safety, security,” he said. “Driving to another airport is a gradual decision. We have to give people a reason to come to the airport.”

He cautions to describe U.S. Airways as a partnership because it is a business.

“If they can take their aircraft somewhere else and make more money, they’ll do it. That’s why it’s important to do everything we can as much as possible,” Henderson said.

Doing as much as possible includes trying to add another carrier. He said he is in constant contact with Delta to persuade them that Florence is a viable community.

“Everything I see and read shows me Florence is growing. That means a growth in travel, and it’s the message we want to share with other carriers and anyone else we can,” he said.

Florence ranks fifth, compared to the other five airports in the state, with 60,295 enplanements last year. The busiest airport was Charleston (1.47 million) enplanements, followed by Greenville/Spartanburg (917,937), Myrtle Beach (831,350) and Columbia (509,738). Florence ranked just ahead of Hilton Head (57,743).

Historically, Florence has seen an increase in enplanements from February to March over the past five years. Henderson said the arenas that are part of business in Florence include airline, aircraft maintenance, military and corporate aircraft. Airport deputy director and fixed base operator (FBO) manager John Ferguson said the fuel sales and maintenance business this year looks to be picking up.

“It does appear we are billing out more hours and more maintenance,” Ferguson said. “I think the economy is starting to turn around. People are getting out more to do flying and conducting more business in the air. I feel really good about the indicators we are seeing this year.”

Story and photos:

Aircraft mechanic Phil Smith, left, and Director of Maintenance Maurice Lemmond work on a Piper Seneca II on Friday, May 9, 2014, at Florence General Aviation at the Florence Regional Airport. The Fixed Base Operator provides fuel, aircraft maintenance and other services to aircraft. 

Line Chief Duane Peters attaches a fuel hose to a Bombardier Challenger 300 aircraft on Friday, May 9, 2014, at Florence General Aviation (FBO) at the Florence Regional Airport. The FBO said that this year fuel sales are showing a strong increase from previous years.