WILMINGTON — Though in 2020 Wilmington International Airport (ILM) saw a decrease in passengers by more than half due to the pandemic, the NC Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation’s report — completed every two years — shows the airport’s impact on jobs and economic growth is on the uprise in 2019 (the report does not account for the effects of coronavirus in 2020).
In fact, ILM added to job creation in the area from 13,000 to 16,385, not to mention an almost $500 million bump in economic growth, from $1.752 billion to $2.247 billion.
The report’s positive outlook comes from 2019 being a banner year in travel, as passengers flying out of ILM tipped over 1 million.
Travel restrictions and Covid-19 put a dent in 2020’s numbers, with passenger loads topping out at just over 470,000 for the year. April was the slowest month, with only 1,839 arrivals and 1,963 departures, compared to 2019’s highs upward of 45,000 each that month.
“Our goals are to return to normal passenger loads,” Gary Broughton said, ILM’s deputy airport director.
But the upswing to seeing fewer passengers, according to Broughton, is ILM’s terminal expansion has expedited. The project began in November 2019, and to date ILM is in contract three with Monteith Construction, with completion of expansion expected by the end of 2022.
“They are ahead of schedule at this point with full crews on the job,” Broughton said, adding ILM expects some of the newly constructed space to be used by the end of 2021.
“State and federal funds are in place to keep the project moving along,” he said.
The N.C. General Assembly awarded ILM $11.8 million for the expansion, and an additional $21 million came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with Airport Improvement Program 57 allocating $3.16 million via FAA.
Also, the N.C. Department of Transportation Funding for Commercial Airports gave ILM $5.9 million in the fiscal year 2019 and $5.06 million both in 2020 and 2021.
“Approximately $10 million of that is allocated to the expansion project, with remaining funds programmed for other airport capital projects,” ILM’s facilities director Granseur Dick said.
The CARES Act helped the airport keep its employees and continue paying debts with a $19.8 million grant in 2020; however, money from it is not being used to fund the terminal expansion.
The ILM airport expansion and renovation project will run around $60 million for total construction, as well as any construction-related engineering and architectural services.
“The project is currently on schedule and on budget,” Dick said.
The expansion includes new gates and renovated ticket areas, another checkpoint lane, more concessions, and updated outbound baggage for its airline partners.
It also will include public art installations in partnership with the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County. Three new installations will go up in July 2021, created by muralist Jill Webb, as well as sculptors Paul Hill, Greg Hall and Jeff Hackney. There will be one 3D sculpture and two 2D terrazzo floor designs. Floor plans are allocated a budget of $25,000 each and the large installation will be given $200,000
Currently, ILM operates with three airline partners — Delta, American and United. Broughton said one of the long-term goals of the airport is to add a fourth airline — “most likely a value airline for inbound and outbound leisure passengers.”
Growth also continued with ILM’s business partners, specifically the All American Aviation Services’ flight school opening and more aircraft activity, Broughton said. “Live Oak Bank has a new hangar at ILM. We had a few more new tenants in the ILM Business Park. All of these increased our economic impact.”
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