Officials signal a rebound at Wilmington International Airport

The Wilmington International Airport’s $61 million expansion is projected to be completed by the end of 2022. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Airport Authority is forecasting a turnaround in the quantity of local air traffic, according to its annual presentation to the board of commissioners scheduled for Aug. 23. 

While the number of inbound seats on planes heading into Wilmington International Airport in June 2021 was on par with June 2019, the airport saw more passengers in July and August 2021 when comparing the same windows in 2019. 

There were approximately 58,000 passengers heading into ILM during July 2019; in July 2021, that number was up 11.5% to 65,000 passengers. August 2019 saw 60,000 inbound passengers; there have been 65,000 inbound passengers to ILM already this month, a 7.9% increase, according to the airport authority’s presentation


These boosts followed harsh drop-offs last year, with July and August 2020 seeing 31,000 and 37,000 inbound travelers, respectively. 

Enplanements at the airport are similarly showing a rebound. Traffic in 2019 saw 538,014 enplanements; last year that number dropped by more than half to 237,676, according to the presentation, though in 2021 there have already been around 400,000 enplanements. 

The airport authority and a search committee are in the process of selecting a new airport director, following the ouster of former director Julie Wilsey this summer. ILM is also in the midst of growth with a $61 million terminal expansion underway scheduled to finish at the end of next year. 

The expansion includes adding three new gates, which should be open by the end of the year. 

The airport authority also reported a shift in popularity of major travel hub. Passenger numbers on flights coming from Charlotte have fallen when comparing 2019 (77,000 seats) and 2021 (67,000 seats).

The Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, by contrast, has filled 23,000 seats on flights to ILM so far this year; in 2019 that airport delivered 7,000 passengers to ILM. 

The Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. similarly has bumped up its flights to ILM, with a capacity of 5,000 seats on flights in 2019 and 12,000 seats already this year.

According to the presentation, ILM’s total economic impact in 2019 was $2.25 billion, including 16,385 jobs and $85 million in state and local tax revenue. 

The New Hanover County Airport Authority suggests its Summer 2021 numbers show a rebound in local air travel. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

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