WILMINGTON –– Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is striving to offer new daily nonstop routes to popular northeast destinations by 2025 with the help of a hefty federal grant and local backing.
In a presentation to Wilmington City Council Monday, ILM director Julie Wilsey explained why she hopes the city will incorporate funding in its upcoming budget to support a grant for the project.
In March the airport applied for the U.S Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, which aims to connect small hubs to business markets. ILM is requesting $840,500 from USDOT and received pledges totaling $159,500 from local government bodies, private companies and economic development agencies for the new route.
If the grant is received, ILM will need to find an airline to offer the service for one of the desired routes: Boston Logan International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport or John F. Kennedy International Airport. The trip must be run daily for a full year.
The northeast is the most heavily traveled-to region for ILM fliers, Wilsey said, and Newark is currently the airport’s top destination without a nonstop.
“We have LaGuardia, as you know, daily with American. However, that’s not really where some of the business travelers want to go,” Wilsey said. “They would rather go to Newark for their international connections or because of the . . . clinical researchers in the Newark area. It’s a very popular destination.”
ILM expects to learn about the status of the award by August 2021, although the announcement could take longer, depending on how much time USDOT needs to review the 77 applications. Securing an airline could take several years.
In 2013 the airport requested $50,000 from city council for a Small Community Air Service Development Program grant. It took four years for the airport to get United Airlines to agree to oversee the Chicago route, starting in 2018. The nonstop flight still operates today.
“So we have some success based on this federal grant program,” Wilsey said.
Currently, ILM’s daily market includes nonstop flights to Dallas by American; Atlanta by Delta; Washington, D.C. by American and United; and Philadelphia by American.
For the summer, airline partners at ILM historically schedule nonstop flights for a few months at a time. This season American is flying to LaGuardia and Delta is running a route to Chicago. American is offering a nonstop flight out of Boston for the first time this summer; the flight was originally scheduled for weekends only but upgraded to six days a week.
“We think that’s a great tourism and business market for the summer,” Wilsey said.
The New York and Boston markets would qualify for the grant if the airlines agreed to change their flights from seasonal to daily, year-long flights.
“We think we have a good opportunity with the carriers, provided we get the grant,” Wilsey said.
ILM is committing to a $100,000 marketing investment for the new route and $454,200 in fee and rent waivers for two years.
Eighteen local community partners agreed to chip in $159,500. New Hanover County said it would give $50,000. The City of Wilmington said it would give $25,000, and UNCW said it would give $5,000, according to Wilsey.
Economic development agencies gave pledges as well. Wilmington Business Development pledged $5,000; Brunswick Business and Industry Development is agreeing to contribute $2,500; and Wilmington Chamber pledged $2,000.
Twelve private companies are investing between $2,000 and $10,000 each, totaling $70,000.
Based on 2019 data, pre-Covid, the airport creates 16,000-plus jobs and has a $2.25 billion economic impact, with $85 million in annual state and local tax revenue.
Wilsey explained the airport supports the region in other ways, including business recruitment and tourism.
“People who want to relocate and retire, they look at air service before they choose their community or retirement, and also we provide benefits to the overall quality of place,” Wilsey said. “So air service is an economic catalyst for the region.”
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