Today's editorial argues that a more efficient passenger terminal should make Myrtle Beach International Airport less expensive for travelers to use:
Slashing per-passenger fees on airlines, as the Horry County Council did this week, alone won't drive down airfares at Myrtle Beach International Airport. Also needed is a passenger terminal that costs less than the current terminal to operate.
Fortunately, the County Council and its airport leadership understand this and are on track to launch construction of a new terminal on the airport's east side. Each of the three top design choices would relegate the current terminal, built in 1976 and expanded seven times since, to minimal use - or no use.
Good. The building is a hodge-podge of traffic choke points that make it needlessly costly for airlines and airport personnel (such as baggage handlers) to use.
Moreover, the existing terminal does not meet modern standards for wind and earthquake resistance. Retrofitting it to take care of those problems would be expensive - and if the county paid that expense, our communities would still end up with an inefficient building that costs too much to operate.
The initial construction cost of a new or mostly new terminal well might be higher than such a retrofit. But the long-term operating costs of a new facility would be far lower than the operating cost of the current facility.
In terms of total costs over the life of a building, operating costs matter more. And when the building in question is an airport terminal, operating costs correlate directly with airline costs.
True, the county - until this week - saw the airport as a kind of profit center and set per-passenger fees on airlines accordingly. Now the county has slashed as much as $1.6 million from its airport "take" during the 12 months beginning in September.
But the high operating costs driven by the current terminal's inefficient design - as well as its inability to handle high passenger volume at peak travel times - will remain. Along with other variables beyond the county's control, those costs will continue to exert upward pressure on the fares that airlines charge the passengers who fly to and from the airport.
We know: Some readers disagree with airport consultants' assertion that the current terminal is too small. These good folks cite shrinking airline flights and this year's month by month airport passenger decline as evidence that no new terminal is needed.
They, especially, should consider that the current terminal has been inadequate, according to federal standards, for years. The current dip in air travel hasn't changed that.
We believe that the county's experiment on fees will produce more flights to the airport and more passengers moving through the terminal. But even if that doesn't happen, building a bigger, more efficient terminal building is still a good idea.
Think of the building as a utility. Most utilities - water/sewer, electric, telephone - engineer their facilities to handle peak capacity. During much of a given day, in other words, their facilities are overbuilt. But if a given utility was incapable of handling peak loads, it would operate sporadically and inefficiently, driving up costs for its customers.
That's what's happening now at the current terminal. Build a new, larger one that is easily and cheaply expandable, and the cost of using the terminal, over time, can only drop, exerting downward pressure on fares.
If there's a better reason for the county to proceed with the project, full speed ahead, we have yet to hear it.