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ILM Bucks Dip In Air Travel Demand

By Jenny Callison, posted Sep 15, 2021
ILM is seeing more positive trends compared to 2019, airport officials said this week. (File photo)
With demand for air travel easing off and revenues sagging, some airlines are announcing flight cutbacks for the fourth quarter of 2021. Carriers Southwest and Frontier, for example, have warned that the COVID-19 delta variant is taking a bite out of their bookings, according to a recent Associated Press story.

The story quoted Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian as saying that people are traveling, but key segments – business and international flyers – are still largely missing. He estimated the rise in COVID-19 cases will delay travel recovery by 90 to 120 days.

But that scenario isn’t apparent at Wilmington International Airport, according to Interim Airport Director Gary Broughton.

Asked how passenger counts and numbers of flights this quarter compare to those of the same period last year, Broughton said ILM isn’t comparing its numbers to COVID-ridden Q3 2020 but to pre-pandemic Q3 2019.

“We are seeing positive trends compared to 2019,” he wrote Tuesday in an email.

Looking forward to the new quarter starting Oct. 1, Broughton added, “Our airlines tell us that they are not seeing reductions aside from seasonal flights. Some plan to add flights in Q4 which certainly shows their confidence in Wilmington.”

ILM is served by Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines.

Broughton shared some information that ILM’s air service consultant presented recently to airport officials. Data from Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting showed that demand for flights into and out of ILM remains leisure-oriented and that the airport has done well during the pandemic.

“ILM has outperformed our peers, and the nation, in keeping airlines’ attention during the pandemic,” Broughton quoted the consultant as saying. “According to an analysis by Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting (APAC), seat capacity at ILM (during April 2020-August 2021) is higher than peer airports as well as airports throughout the United States.”
 
The APAC statistics “positively highlight the airline’s confidence and investment in Wilmington,” Broughton wrote, citing the consultant’s research showing that in July of this year, passenger numbers at ILM were 101% of those for July 2019.  The national average was 80%. The graph below illustrates ILM's competitive status.


                                                                             Illustration courtesy of Wilmington International Airport

“[The consultant] also mentioned that moving forward, airlines are facing capacity pressures (as a whole) which may lead to reductions/changes,” Broughton added. “Hopefully our capacity remains and demand fills the seats.”
 
The interim director also mentioned that ILM’s new terminal expansion is still on schedule and is slated to open in early 2022.
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