NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Wilmington International Airport named its new director Thursday, roughly five months after its board made a surprise decision to part ways with its former leader.
Jeffrey Bourk comes from Branson Airport in Hollister, Missouri, where he served as executive director for 14 years. Prior to that, he managed facility operations and played a role in attracting new air services to Portland International Jetport as its assistant manager for six years.
The New Hanover County Airport Authority voted unanimously during its Wednesday meeting to sign a three-year contract with Bourk. He starts Jan. 3.
Airport Authority Chairperson Donna Girardot stated in a press release Bourk’s 25 years of experience made him a stand-out candidate.
“He has a proven track record of working with economic development partners that will help grow our business park, and he is skilled in team building and fostering a caring and motivated culture,” Girardot said in the release. “The Airport Authority members all feel that Mr. Bourk’s strategic approach, new synergy, and career aviation knowledge will help ILM grow to heightened levels of excellence and we look forward to working with him.”
According to the release, Bourk is credited with building Branson Airport “from the ground up to become an integral part of the area’s tourism industry, building its infrastructure and bringing in low-cost carriers to help make flying in and out of the area more accessible and economical.”
Since 2009, that airport has served more than one million travelers and generated millions to economically impact the Branson Tri-Lakes region, according to ILM’s release.
Bourk’s resume also includes tenures managing operations for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at Teterboro Airport — one of the largest general aviation airports in the U.S. — and, early on in his career, a leadership role in operations at White Plains Airport.
His academic achievements include a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in aviation management from Daniel Webster College, where he graduated at the top of his class, and a Bachelor of Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Plus, he is an accredited airport executive, was a certified aircraft rescue firefighter, possesses a Federal Aviation Administration private pilot certificate, and partakes in various airport and pilot trade associations. Bourk’s wife flies planes as well. He indicated in the release he plans to get involved in the general aviation community at ILM.
“I am excited for this new opportunity to move my family to Wilmington, to get to know the community and serve in this role as Airport Director with the great team ILM has in place,” Bourk said in the release. “The airport is experiencing a lot of exciting new changes, with the terminal expansion, increased activity in the business park, and the addition of several new, non-stop flights. I look forward to creating and implementing strategic air service development and business park plans ensuring ILM contributes the maximum economic impact to the region, bringing in additional flights, and ensuring our business operations align with sustainable growth to provide high-quality service for residents and visitors.”
Bourk arrives just as the airport is preparing to open its newly renovated and expanded terminal after the holidays. The $61-million project features new gates and renovated ticket areas, another checkpoint lane and expanded concessions.
Further, Bourk is expected to help grow ILM’s 140-acre business park. On Wednesday, hours before the news broke of Bourk’s hiring, the airport announced two significant investments from companies in the park: Edgewater Ventures is building three, Class A, speculative industrial buildings; CIL Capital, LLC is developing a cold storage facility for the life sciences industry.
“It’s clear the Airport Authority is focused on strategic business planning and creating the best airport for the region, and I am eager to begin working with them, the ILM team, and the community to ensure that is, and continues to be, the reality,” Bourk stated in the release.
Bourk replaces Julie Wilsey, whose employment contract was terminated unanimously by the authority in June. The vote came as a surprise to the community, considering the airport had experienced a banner year in 2019 with an almost $500-million bump in economic growth and navigated out of 2020, a year of significantly slower travel.
A report by WECT last month revealed Wilsey had stellar reviews prior to her firing, partly due to her overcoming the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. There were also contradictory statements about her relationship and communication with the airport authority.
It cost ILM $315,000 to buy out her contact, WECT also reported.
In recent months, the airport has been the subject of a growing debate over loud and vibratious jets whose pilots train using airport runways. The issue is controversial, with opponents of the noise questioning the legality of it all and the consequences for the historic structures below. Proponents of military use at the airport are quick to defend the noise as a small price to pay for defense.
Interim airport director Gary Broughton told Port City Daily in August the airport is continuously discussing with the FAA possible partnership opportunities with the military to reduce the noise.
Wilsey worked at ILM since 1999 and was promoted to director in 2015, replacing then-outgoing director Jon Rosborough. Since July, former airport deputy director Broughton has served as the interim director. He plans to retire Dec. 31.
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