Coming off an unprecedented year because of COVID-19, the Wilmington International Airport saw a 56% decline in its annual passengers in 2020 from the previous year.
The recently released statistics showed about 477,300 people traveled in and out of the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) in 2020, down from the record of more than 1 million annual passengers in 2019.
"Given the unprecedented conditions of the pandemic, we do not have any historical perspective with which to compare," said Julie Wilsey, ILM's aiprort director, in an email. "It’s more pronounced than 9/11 and previous recessions. ILM is watching and comparing our activity to similar airports. Thanks to the CARES funding, ILM operates with a full staff and facility."
Like many other sectors in the aviation industry, the airport business was impacted by a reduction in passengers due to the pandemic, which led to a reduction in flights because of travel restrictions and public safety issues last year.
Reaching its lowest dip in April, ILM's business has slowly been growing.
"ILM continues to see improvement in passenger numbers and we are generally at the top of the recovery curve when compared to airports across the U.S.," Wilsey said.
ILM received $19.8 million in CARES Act funding to pay employees, make debt payments and cover operating expenses, she said.
"The grant is good for four years," Wilsey added. "It helped us through the current fiscal year and will help us balance the budget if passenger activity and revenues are not back to normal."
But it is still not known how long it will take to for the airport or the industry to recover.
"ILM is tracking and watching peer airports and experts. We start preparing the FY22 budget in February and will make adjustments for the next operating budget based on how things look in February," Wilsey said.
In the meantime, ILM and its three airlines -- Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines -- are taking public health precautions to make travel and flights as safe as possible, she said.
"We believe the vaccination program will get people back to many normal activities, including taking trips for business and leisure," Wilsey said. "ILM is working with the County Health Department to get the employees and tenants in line for the COVID vaccinations. We do not know when that will be; however, we will be ready when they have an allocation for ILM’s Essential Workers."
Wilsey added, "We have been optimistic and continued our terminal expansion project with the thought that we will need the checkpoint and new gate space in 2023."
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that ILM is preparing the FY22 budget in February.