The Wilmington International Airport has accelerated the start of construction for its terminal expansion project by three months.
The project is set to begin in October with its first construction contract, according to Granseur Dick, planning and development director for the Wilmington International Airport (ILM). Bids for construction open this week.
For the airport and its travelers, beginning the years-long project ahead of schedule has its benefits, said Gary Broughton, deputy airport director at ILM.
“By 2022 we should be complete … but getting a jump, getting three months ahead of schedule, is certainly a plus,” Broughton said. “The big challenge here is to keep things running smoothly with no impact to our airlines while the construction is going. That’s what getting this head start is going to help us with.”
The terminal expansion is a three-phase project
with plans for new construction and upgrades to the existing terminal, originally built in 1989. An estimate from 2015 put the cost of the project at $86 million.
A nearly $2 million contract was awarded to Talbert & Bright Inc., a Wilmington design firm, for the airport’s first phase of improvements. Improvements and expansion have been separated into three different construction contracts.
Work for Contract 1 of the project is related to the relocation of the TSA baggage screening devices below the ticket lobby in preparation for work that will be carried out in the second contract of the terminal expansion.
“The TSA equipment that we currently have is not in a position that would allow for us to remain in operation while we go through our expansion project,” Dick said. “So the first contract is just procuring and installing new equipment that allows us to proceed with our expansion and it's all within the existing shell of our terminal building.”
This work will also allow the airport to begin expansion-related tasks while the remaining portions of construction are still in design, he said.
The public will see “very little of this work,” Dick said.
It is in this first round of construction that the airport got the project’s advanced schedule, he said. Completion of the first round of construction is estimated by the spring of 2019.
The estimated cost for this portion of the construction is between $1.5 and $2 million.
The second round of construction, estimated to begin in March 2019, includes expanding the terminal building to provide new airline ticket offices and expand the ticket lobby. It will also include a new outbound baggage area for airline crew, Dick said.
“The biggest thing that the public is going to see is an expanded ticket lobby. We'll also have new ticket counters to facilitate a fourth airline that may come in the future that we of course hope to have at some point,” Dick said, adding that the airline ticket offices will give staff more space as well.
The price of this portion of construction is estimated at about $12 million. The project is mostly being funded by nearly $12 million in state funds for the airport approved by the General Assembly last year.
Contract 2 is scheduled to be complete by March 2020. This phase of the project and the overall expansion gives the airport more capacity, Dick said.
The airport is able to handle about 435,000 departures a year, and currently trending toward that capacity, he said. With the terminal expansion, designs accommodate 705,000 and are projected based on 20 years of growth, Dick said.
At that capacity, the next comparably sized airport in the state would be the Piedmont Triad International Airport, which had 881,018 passengers depart last year, according to the FAA’s preliminary data of enplanement numbers from 2017.
The last portion of the project, Contract 3, is anticipated to begin in fall 2019 and will include the new concourse and gate expansion areas as well as expanded TSA checkpoints.
"We'll also have new retail and restaurant space. So hopefully all of those things will provide better amenities and better service and keep our passengers moving through checkpoints quickly," Dick said.
Contract 3 is nearly a third of the way through the design process, he said. The cost estimate for this portion of the construction is about $40 million, Dick said.
"We see all the new activity in the new flights here and you know, we recognize that our passengers are facing longer lines and more crowded gates and we want to do everything we can to expedite this process," Dick said of the project.
"We know growth is coming and our region is growing. The southeast part of the state is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. And we want to stay ahead of that and not be trying to play catch up," he added.