‘We’re seeing really good, solid traffic’: airport directors react to uptick in travel amid Big Rock Tournament

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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) — The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament usually brings thousands of people to Eastern North Carolina every year.

Last year, fewer crowds attended because of the pandemic. Fast forward to this year and it’s a much different sight. Many people traveled through local airports to get to Morehead City.

The past year and a half was hard on the airline industry, but airport directors said things are heading in the right direction. The crowds of people coming to the 63rd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament is a good indication.

“With the beaches and Big Rock and camps and everything that’s going on right now here in Eastern North Carolina, we’re seeing really good solid traffic at the airport,” said Eric Litchfield, business director at the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern.

This time last year, Coastal Carolina Regional was empty. Litchfield said things are getting back to normal.

“The terminal feels like people are back,” he said. “There are people at the restaurant eating. There are people checking in, picking people up. We’re busy again.”

Part of EWN’s increased traffic is thanks to the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

“With the anglers coming in and their support crew and some fans, we’re seeing that pick up,” Litchfield said.

Albert J. Ellis Airport in Onslow County is also seeing Big Rock travelers. The airport had a record-breaking May and is off to a good June. Director Chris White said it’s great that events like Big Rock are being held at full capacity again.

“They attract a lot of people in our community, a lot of people to our region,” he said. “They do so much economic activity while they’re here that it’s incredibly important for the job base that’s here, since we’re very heavily dependent upon tourism. And not just along the coast but throughout the entire Eastern North Carolina region.”

White says the more traffic airports see, the more traffic local businesses see.

“As you talk about tourism in general, airports help to drive that and help to bring a lot of people and a lot of economic growth into our community and we want to be able to continue to do that,” he said.

Airport directors say they’re expecting the rest of the summer to be busy. They’re encouraging people to not only buy local, but to also fly local.

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