Sunday, March 26, 2023

ILM welcomes new low-cost carrier, adds nonstop seasonal flight

Sun Country will offer a nonstop flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Courtesy Sun Country)

A fifth airline carrier — and second low-cost one — has arrived at the Wilmington International Airport, authorities announced Tuesday.

Minnesota-based Sun Country will begin offering nonstop summer flights between ILM and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) starting next summer. Sun Country operates 120 routes and partners with over 90 airports across the United States, Mexico, Central America, Canada and the Caribbean.

The flights between ILM and MSP officially take off June 1st and will be available twice weekly through Labor Day. 

Among its ILM arrival, Sun Country also announced a 15-city route expansion, 12 of which were new, including North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“We’re excited to launch this new, nonstop route for Minnesotans who want more options to explore North Carolina,” Grant Whitney, chief revenue officer at Sun Country Airlines, said in a press release. “Wilmington appeals to travelers of all ages with many different interests.”

Sun Country is a hybrid low-cost air carrier, founded in 1983, from a spinoff of Braniff Airlines employees. Headquartered in Minneapolis, the company has endured financial struggles in the past but has grown over the last several years, including into a partnership with Amazon.

In the early aughts, the company suspended operations in 2001 and resumed in 2003, and thereafter was acquired by Petters Group Worldwide and Whitebox Advisors. It filed for bankruptcy after the 2008 recession and experienced financial fraud — Petters liquidated due to a Ponzi scheme — which propelled an FBI investigation.

Sun Country has been sold twice since and today is owned by Apollo Global Management, with a small stake going to Amazon Air. Sun Country runs Amazon’s cargo flights. It also offers charters for the United States Armed Forces and NCAA football.

According to Simple Flying, Sun Country’s revenues increased tenfold from 2011 to 2019, from $308 to $709 million. In 2017, it embraced the low-cost carrier model, with the removal of premium cabins and free bags, in effect increasing revenues.

2020 numbers show it employs roughly 1,700 people and operated at a $400 million budget. Its fleet consists of Boeing 737 Next-Generation airplanes. In 2021, Sun Country went public on NASDAQ (SNCY).

The nonstop flight between Wilmington and Minneapolis-St. Paul is the first between the city pair.

“The increased air service at ILM generates economic growth and activity for our region and is a welcome addition to our airport and to New Hanover County,” chairwoman Julia Boseman stated in a release.

ILM makes a $2.2 billion economic impact, according to the airport authority, and brings in $85 million in tax revenue to the county.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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