ILM receives $6.5M from Airport Rescue Plan for Covid-19 economic recovery

ILM had a banner year in 2019 but was hit hard in 2020 from the Covid-19 pandemic. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — Last week, Wilmington International Airport (ILM) announced it was awarded $6,552,227 from the Airport Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). President Joe Biden signed the act into law in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan.

ARPA will fund $6.5 billion to be paid out to eligible airports nationwide that serve commercial airlines and have at least 10,000 passengers annually. An additional $800 million will go toward rent and annual guarantees for in-terminal concessions. $100 million will be paid out to non-primary commercial service and general aviation airports.

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The Federal Aviation Administration is overseeing the payments to help provide economic relief from Covid-19. ILM can use the money toward “operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, combatting the spread of pathogens and debt service payments,” according to a release.

“These funding efforts assist the economic recovery of ILM and airports across the nation and have helped ensure that the transportation and safety needs of the communities we serve are met,” facilities director Granseur Dick said in the release.

ILM received almost $20 million as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last spring. The money helped the airport keep personnel and increase cleaning protocols during the height of the pandemic.

It also received $21.1 million in federal grants last fall, to go toward its terminal expansion, which is expected to wrap by December 2022. The $61 million project will include new gates and renovated ticket areas, a third TSA lane, more concessions, as well as updates to its outbound baggage for its airline partners.

The fifth largest airport in the state, ILM made a $2.25 billion economic impact and brought more than 16,000 jobs to Wilmington in 2019, according to NCDOT Division of Aviation’s 2020 report. 2019 was a banner year for ILM, which served over 1 million passengers. Yet, Covid-19 halted travel by more than 50%; ILM passengers topped out just over 470,000 for all of 2020. 

In May 2021, ILM reported it was well on its way to rebounding to pre-pandemic levels — even surpassing the national average by 12%. It reached 79% of its 2019 numbers by May. It also was showing promising trends in June, according to a release, with passenger counts inching higher toward 95%-99% of 2019 levels.

“We are pleased to see our numbers rebound so strongly,” then-deputy airport director Gary Broughton stated. Broughton, who was slated to retire in the fall, has stepped in as acting director of ILM upon former director Julie Wilsey’s departure. Last month, the New Hanover County Airport Authority unanimously voted to end the employment contract of Wilsey; reasoning has not been given as to why.

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Broughton will serve as ILM interim director through the end of the year as the authority undergoes a search for a new director.

“Our team remains committed to providing a safe, clean, and exceptional experience for our customers and are excited to welcome back travelers to ILM,” Broughton said in a release.

This summer the airport has reinstated seasonal routes via American, Delta, and United, including nonstop service to Boston five days a week.


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