Friday, January 23, 2015

EDITORIAL: Number of flights spiraling downward • Hilton Head Airport (KHXD), Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

For the fourth straight year, the number of arrivals and departures at the Hilton Head Island Airport has declined.

General aviation flights were down 7 percent in 2014 from 2013, according to newly released reports. They dropped almost 19 percent from 2011 general aviation flights, the first year after Delta Air Lines suspended services and left US Airways, which merged late last year with American Airlines, as the airport's sole commercial carrier.

Meanwhile, Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, buoyed by the addition of JetBlue, has announced a 17 percent increase in passengers in 2014 compared to 2013.

Hilton Head Island Airport and Beaufort County leaders say they aren't worried about the drop. They seem confident that implementing a list of improvements, including a controversial extension of the runway, will reverse the trend. Other projects include upgrades to taxiways and flights paths.

It seems that airport and county officials are putting all of their eggs in one basket with no guarantee that the trend will be reversed. 

Consider:

---No commercial airline has said it will begin flights to and from the Hilton Head airport if the runway is extended even though there's existing terminal space to accommodate the addition of one or two more.

*US Airways has not indicated that it will increase its flights.

---There's no known movement by owners of private planes to up their usage of the airport.

Meanwhile, fewer flights and passengers are using medium- and small-hub airports as a result of higher fuel prices, industry consolidation and a new focus on profitability over market share.

And debate continues on what tomorrow's planes will be. Higher fuel costs have prompted some airlines to eliminate regional jets, the kind that could be used on Hilton Head's lengthened runway. But some on the airports board have argued that turboprops are making a comeback thanks to new fuel-efficient designs.

With so much up in the air, it's impossible to say what will turn the airport around.

But we aren't expecting that a longer runway will be the fix.

Editorial: http://www.thestate.com

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