Charleston travelers will be able to fly nonstop to London aboard a 787-8 Dreamliner starting next year, marking the state’s first trans-Atlantic service.
British Airways plans to offer twice-weekly flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and Charleston International Airport beginning April 4. The seasonal service will run through October, at which point the airline will evaluate whether to continue, increase or halt the service.
A large cohort of airport and airline officials, business executives, economic developers and elected leaders gathered at Charleston International Airport today for the announcement. Many speakers called the flight “a game changer” for the airport and the Lowcountry.
“This is a historical day for this part of the world and the state of South Carolina. ... This is huge for us and huge for South Carolina,” said state Sen. Paul Campbell, CEO of the Charleston County Aviation Authority. “Charleston is open to the world.”
As part of the recruitment effort, the state Commerce Department allocated $1.3 million toward costs associated with the airline’s launch in Charleston.
Simon Brooks, British Airways’ senior vice president of North America, said the Lowcountry’s internationally acclaimed charm, history, golf and beaches were a big part of the airline’s decision to include Charleston in its North American expansion plans. He said the flight will likely attract London tourists to visit Charleston and vice versa.
The Charleston region’s growth in international business was also part of the attraction. The Lowcountry has 183 companies that have international headquarters and operations; 16 of those are based in the United Kingdom, said Claire Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.
Officials lauded Helen Hill, an airport board member and CEO of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, for pursuing the airline.
Hill said that the airport has wanted an international flight since it opened in the 1980s. Talks with British Airways have been ongoing for several years.
Hill said the Lowcountry’s booming tourism sector brought the airline here, but she said it will be the region’s burgeoning international business community that will induce the airline to expand its initial offerings.
Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt and David Ginn, CEO of the CRDA, said the nonstop flights to London offer business travelers better connectivity between Europe and South Carolina. The nonstop flights will help market South Carolina as a place for international companies to grow or expand, several officials said.
Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said he will no longer have to mention traveling through Georgia or North Carolina during overseas recruitment trips; London and European travelers can now come directly to Charleston.
The flight will operate on Thursdays and Sundays. Outbound flights will depart from Charleston at 10:50 p.m. and arrive in London the next morning at 11:50 a.m. Return flights will leave London at 5:20 p.m. and arrive in Charleston at 9:20 p.m.
British Airways will use a 787-8 Dreamliner for the flights. The Commerce Department said the airline will use a 787-8 built at Boeing South Carolina’s North Charleston Dreamliner manufacturing site.
British Airways will also take delivery of 12 new Boeing 787-10s built in North Charleston between 2020 and 2023, according to a news release from the airline.
(Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized foreign companies in the Lowcountry. The Lowcountry has 183 companies that have international headquarters and operations.)