Hilton Head airport sees sharp increase in passengers in 2021, more than before pandemic

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Hilton Head Island Airport, on the cusp of a $37.5 million terminal expansion project, saw a sharp increase in passenger traffic during 2021, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, the airport announced.

One of the new Hilton Head Airport terminal expansion renderings.
One of the new Hilton Head Airport terminal expansion renderings.

The airport saw a 145% increase in passengers compared to 2020 and 66% more than in 2019. Last year, over 388,000 passengers came through the Hilton Head Island airport, compared to over 233,000 in 2019.

Airport Director Jon Rembold said the increase could be because of less international travel due to the pandemic and more flight options from big destination markets. Airport officials also attributed added air service and added seat capacity, both of which were passenger demands.

“The post-pandemic growth we’ve seen at the airport continues to show how necessary added flight options to the island were,” Rembold said. “Prior to the airport’s growth, passengers often had to fly into an airport outside of the county and then drive to their destination.”

He said the added service options allow visitors to start their vacation upon arrival.

Although the facility historically had been a single carrier airport until the runway was extended, according to Rembold, in spring of 2019, two airlines were added. He said Delta had been a carrier until 2010 but returned in 2019, and United Airlines was also added in that time.

The increase in passengers is good for all the businesses at the airport and for businesses that feed off airport traffic, Rembold said.

“The economic impact of the airport has gone up tremendously in the last several years, so that’s good for everyone,” he said. “Rising tide lifts all the boats.”

Rembold said the expansion to the airport — adding an additional 42,000 square feet to its 18,500-square-foot building — has no set timeline, but he suspects the construction will take 2½ to 3 years to complete once it starts.

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