Monday, February 26, 2024

More terminal space, parking deck part of ILM’s $165M five-year plan

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Wilmington International Airport is planning a massive expansion in the coming years, with a longer-term vision plan soon to be hashed out.

Airport Director Jeff Bourk gave the airport authority board a brief overview of the facility’s new vision plan Wednesday night, laying out what the airport hopes to accomplish in the next five years.

At the top of the list: a new terminal and parking deck to meet growth and demand.

In 2022, ILM cleared its 2019 passengership for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Bourk told PCD it expects a 15% increase in passengership — more than 150,000 more people — this year as its legacy carriers fly larger planes for its routes, add more destinations, and new low-cost carriers Avelo and Sun Country scale up flights.

Bourk noted the demand will push the airport’s current facilities to the limit and it needs to grow with it. The airport recently expanded its terminal by 75% last year.

New plans include increasing terminal space from its 550,000 enplanement capacity to at least 750,000. It also will broaden the curb area in front of the terminal and add a 1,200-space parking deck.

Yet, some improvements are coming this year. A 100-space new parking lot is slated to be complete by spring, with hundreds more spaces to follow in undeveloped areas around the current lots by the end of this year.

ILM Business Development Director Carol LeTellier also announced Dunkin’ Donuts and Jimmy Johns, plus new retail space branded as “The Market at ILM” will open in the terminal this year.

Developer ILM Airport Hotel Partners still is in the due-diligence phase of the 150-room hotel currently planned in the business park area.

More hangar space for fixed-base operators on the east side and a fuel farm are planned. The fuel farm is basically a self-service gas station for general aviation operators.

Bourk told PCD the airport currently does not own a fuel farm to supply FBOs. There are two private hangars on the northwestern part of the property with their own fueling systems, but none on the southeastern end. It poses a problem for the hangar operators in that area because planes have to taxi aircraft to refuel.

Fuel trucks are not allowed to cross taxiways due to a Federal Aviation Administration safety standard.

That facility will be paid for via fuel sales. Bourk noted it will aid further development in that part of the airfield.

The west side of the airport will see more water and sewer infrastructure coming as well.

On the runway, ILM has rehabilitation work planned and the relocation of a taxiway to accommodate the expanded terminal in the vision plan. These improvements will come with a noise study and environmental review.

All improvements will cost about $165 million. Bourke noted the airport’s surge in passengership is driving its income, and the organization expects to take in $106 million over the next five years from state and federal grants, as well as passenger fees. This is a marked increase from recent revenue figures. The current fiscal year’s revenue projection is $12.2 million, which Bourk describes as conservative.

“This funding does not come from local taxpayers,” Bourk said. “It’s generated by the local, state and federal aviation system. It must be used for airport capital improvements.”

The remainder of the capital program will be funded by reserve money, debt and “discretionary grants,” he added.

Discretionary money also could come from sources like the $550 billion federal bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

The airport authority has an administration staff of 50, with plans to add 10 more to the team over the course of the expansion.

Looking ahead, the airport is creating a master plan that will give a long-range vision past the next five years. The current plan, completed in 2018, will carry ILM through 2027.

The authority has never created a vision plan before. Bourk said it will be updated each year.

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