Wilmington International Airport flying high after record year

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Wilmington International Airport’s main concourse. “We’re pretty quiet right now, but it’s a little different story between 5:30 and 7  in the morning,” Airport Director Julie Wilsey said.

WILMINGTON – Wilmington International Airport (ILM) had a record-breaking year in 2016, beating its previous record set in 2010.

Airport Director Julie Wilsey told Port City Daily, “We were pretty confident in November that we would beat 2015, but as we got closer, we were all thinking that we might beat 2010. We didn’t want to talk about it out loud, of course, until the final numbers came in the other day.”

A total of 817,896 passengers passed through ILM in 2016 – with 6.6 percent (25,365) more departures and 5.9 percent (22,722) more arrivals than 2015. The airport topped its previous 2010 record of 799,710 passengers.

“We really credit our partners, Delta and American,” Wilsey said. “They upgraded their planes and their flight schedules, that meant more seats, more options for flying, and our flying public really responded.”

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Boeing’s latest, the 777, is the pride of the American fleet (1:200 scale).

Wilsey said the goal of the airport is not to compete with airports like Charlotte or Atlanta, but to provide the best possible service to the growing southeastern North Carolina region.

“They good thing about your hometown airport is that we’re a small airport with good connections,” she said. “Delta flies through Atlanta, and American flies through Laguardia, Charlotte and Philadelphia. Through those hubs you can go anyway in the world.

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The Bombardier CRJ-200 provides quick connections to international flights through Delta’s hub in Atlanta. (1:100 scale)

“But the experience at our airport is much more relaxing. Going through security here, compared to LaGaurdia for example,” Wilsey added. “And we’ve made a lot of improvements to the airport to help people enjoy themselves while they’re here. We’ve got the art gallery, we’ve got craft beers in our bar, and we’re working on a history section. You can have a relaxing experience and then fly anywhere in the world.”

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ILM’s planned history section will be able to draw from the area’s rich history, including the story of the Wright brothers and their “Wright Flyer,” reproduced in the airport’s main hall.

Looking ahead to 2017, Wilsey is optimistic about the airport’s chances of breaking it’s own record. In large part she credits this to the growth, in several senses, of Wilmington.

“Back in the day, they used to base these things on relationships and market,” Wilsey said. “Now they’re running things more like a business, looking at the metrics. They’ve right-sized the planes and the frequency of flights. So there are a lot more opportunities to grow. But it’s not just the growing population of Wilmington. There’s been a lot of development in the arts, and with business – just look at what’s going on a TekMountain. And there’s award winning restaurants. It’s an exciting time.”

Wilsey says with the airport’s growing numbers, and the region’s elevated profile, ILM has more sway in convincing airlines to schedule direct flights, another goal for 2017.

“Well, we’ve got a wish list. We’ve had it for a few years, and as our numbers get better, we can go to our carriers, and ask,” she said. “We’d love to do non-stop to Chicago. Boston is on the list, Dallas-Fort Worth, and D.C. – a lot of people would like a direct to D.C. We have a lot of business travelers, and we pay attention to that, to their needs and where they need to fly.”

ILM expects to exceed last year’s North Carolina Department of Transportation’s estimate on an economic impact of $1.6 billion in 2017.

“I’m grateful to everyone who flies with us,” Wilsey said. “And I’m thankful to have such a hardworking staff here. I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish this year.”