There is a well-accepted axiom that states, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” When it comes to growth and capacity, it is important for the airport to have an ongoing, viable master plan. The 2005 Wilmington International Airport (ILM) Master Plan Revision identified specific short-term and long-term airside and landside airport projects to include airport terminal facility needs. Since then, ILM has continued to experience growth in air carrier operations, enplanements and service, adding new non-stop destinations. Despite the downturn in the economy, ILM set a record in 2010 for enplaned passengers. As ILM continues to grow, it is important that we recognize and establish an updated plan for the future. Thus, a Terminal Capacity Study is being conducted to predict ILM’s future growth and to provide a strategy for expansion.
It’s no surprise that the Wilmington area is expected to continue its growth. From 2010 to 2012, the city of Wilmington, as well as New Hanover County, experienced a population increase of 3.2 percent. This represents a greater increase (2.3 percent) than experienced by the entire state during that time frame. With this growth comes the increase in demand for air travel. ILM currently serves more than 800,000 passengers annually. As a result of current demand and future potential service, ILM is already nearing terminal capacity in the following areas:
- With the addition of new flights and/or airlines, the passenger holding area is expected to reach/exceed capacity during peak hours.
- With the addition of a single new carrier, the existing ticketing counters will be at capacity.
- With the addition of new airlines, provisions for baggage makeup/handling will need adjustments.
- With the addition of new airlines, existing gates will need to be shared.
Based on ILM’s growth and the fact that these areas are already nearing capacity, the Terminal Capacity Study anticipates that new terminal space and aircraft gates will be needed in the next two to five years. From the terminal’s use beginning in 1989, airline enplanements have shown significant growth, increasing an impressive 246 percent. Over the last 10 years alone, ILM passenger enplanements have increased over 85 percent. The 2013 FAA forecast calls for U.S. carrier passenger growth over the next 20 years to average 2.2 percent per year. In the Terminal Capacity Study, the trend projection predicts a 75 percent increase (from 400,000 to 700,000) in ILM enplanements from 2013 to 2033.
Eventually, this means that ILM will need an entirely new second concourse due to the predicted growth. Comparable airports that currently operate with more than 700,000 enplanements have an average of 12 gates and 238,000 square footage of terminal building space. ILM currently operates with seven gates and just over 102,000 square footage of terminal building space. The Terminal Capacity Plan’s long-term goal is to add an additional 93,000 square feet, almost doubling the current amount, at an estimated cost of $35 million. If ILM’s growth proves to be on target with the projections, this second concourse will be absolutely necessary to accommodate the increase in demand.
So, what does this all mean for ILM? As southeastern North Carolina’s regional gateway, it means that the future is bright! The Terminal Capacity Study shows us that because we are a key economic player in the region, we need to decide how best to move forward in accommodating the growth of this region and the air travel it demands. At ILM, we love to discuss plans for growth because it gives us an opportunity to evaluate our current operations and facilities and provide a plan for improvements. We know that an opportunity to expand is a direct reflection of the support from our community. It is only because of our loyal passengers that we are able to experience such a positive forecast! For this purpose, we take every opportunity we can to say thanks for flying ILM!
Jon Rosborough became director of the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) in November of 1998. As the fourth largest airport in North Carolina, ILM serves over 800,000 passengers annually and offers service on both Delta Airlines and US Airways/American Airlines, ILM services 4 non-stop hubs which allow for convenient domestic and international travel. ILM prides itself on offering award winning customer service and convenience with multiple flight options, easy security screening, and close parking. For more information about ILM, please visit www.flyILM.com, like us on Facebook:www.facebook.com/flyilm, or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ILMairport.