As the Wilmington area prepares to host the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, which is part of the PGA Tour, next May, officials at Wilmington International Airport are working to make sure their facility is ready to handle the extra influx of visitors.
The airport currently handles 750,000 to 800,000 commercial passengers a year. The major golf event, which is set for May 1 – 7, 2017 at Eagle Pointe Golf Club in Porters Neck, is expected to bring about 30,000 spectators to the golf course each day.
Though locals will make up a good portion of that number, thousands of out-of-towners are expected. Airport officials said they’ve recently been in talks with the two airlines that serve ILM, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, to figure out the best plan of action for that week.
“There are a couple of different options,” ILM Deputy Director Gary Broughton said. “The airlines plan to add capacity during the tournament, meaning bigger planes, and possibly even add an extra flight or two.”
American Airlines and its subsidiary American Eagle offer daily year-round flights to Charlotte, Philadelphia and New York – LaGuardia and seasonal weekend service to Reagan National in Washington, D.C. Delta and Delta Connection fly from Wilmington to Atlanta year-round with seasonal flights to LaGuardia.
The majority of those routes are serviced by smaller regional jets, which can hold between 50 to 90 passengers, depending on the aircraft. One Airbus A319, which seats 124 in a standard configuration, is regularly used by American on one of their routes to Wilmington, according to airport officials. Delta has recently started using a Boeing-717, which can seat 110 passengers, to service Wilmington, according to ILM Director Julie Wilsey. According to the Delta website, they also use 149-seat MD-88 planes on their Wilmington-Atlanta route.
“The two carriers we have are happy with our numbers – with our enplanements and deplanements and ability to fill capacity,” Wilsey said. “We have talked with them about our increased need for the Wells Fargo Championship, and they’re in the process of finding a solution. But they’re aware of our need.”
The good standing with Delta and American not only puts ILM officials in a better position to negotiate with them, but also enables them to make better pitches to entice other airlines to service Wilmington. At last month’s JumpStart Air Service Development Conference held in Denver, Wilsey said she was able to talk to representatives from Southwest, United and other smaller airlines about starting routes to Wilmington.
“It was kind of like speed dating. We only had a certain amount of time to make our pitches,” Wilsey said. “Even if it’s not a lot of time, we can make a strong case for ourselves. It’s always good to open doors.”
Wilsey said, however, that she doesn’t anticipate more airlines starting service to ILM in the near future, and certainly not before the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I always tell people it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Wilsey said. “We have the opportunity to talk to other airlines once or twice a year, but they usually won’t call us until six months or so after we’ve met with them.”
Officials are confident that American and Delta will be able to find a way to accommodate all the visitors for the golf tournament. Wilsey said that they’ll focus on getting ready on their end.
“Whether its more flights or bigger planes, that will mean more congestion in the terminal due to more people disembarking at one time,” Wilsey said. “We’ll just have to be prepared for that.”