Wilmington International Airport leaders say a seasonal nonstop flight to Boston, previously planned for this year prior to COVID-19, could land in the summer of 2021.
Air traffic at the Wilmington International Airport has been picking up slightly, after a significant slowdown starting in April, due to the pandemic and its impacts on air travel worldwide.
Julie Wilsey, ILM's airport director, said that the Wilmington airport has seen an improvement in passenger figures since April, when ILM experienced a 96% decrease in arriving and departing travelers.
"The summer travel rebounded to over 40% of normal loads," Wilsey said in an email. "We are currently hovering at 50%. It’s too early to check holiday loads, but we are ready for holiday travelers over the Thanksgiving and Christmas period. If things stay as they are today, then we expect to reach our goal of 50% by end of 2020."
ILM officials aim to get ILM’s numbers back up to pre-COVID-19 levels, Wilsey said at a presentation
to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in August.
August passenger figures were at a total of more than 40,500 inbound and outbound travelers through ILM, a 60% decrease from the nearly 101,200 total passengers in last August.
Since April of this year, however, figures have been tracking up. Month over month, figures rose slightly in August by 3% from a little more than 39,300 total passengers in July.
While ILM has seen strong business passenger loads in the past, the current traveler is slightly different.
"Looking at passenger behavior, we see the leisure traveler as our largest segment of traveler. We also have business travelers using ILM as well, but it is not at the normal level," Wilsey said.
ILM's three carriers, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, have been adding back flight options and increasing frequency and capacity at the airport, Wilsey said.
For October, ILM has a total of five nonstop destinations running through its commercial airline carriers: flights to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dulles International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.
ILM's other nonstop destination markets – Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and LaGuardia Airport – are seasonal routes "and will return when demand warrants," Wilsey said.
Those are flights for the summer travel season, which for ILM is May through September. ILM is out of that window now, she said.
"The reduction of nonstop flights to the three markets are decisions made by our airline partners," Wilsey added. "They are focused on their network, not specifically ILM. To help, ILM continues to pass along the positive news in our local economy such as strong summer tourism and the return of film to Wilmington."
American's proposed Boston nonstop, which was slated to be a seasonal nonstop flight this year but was canceled this year due to COVID-19 impacts, has been postponed and could potentially start in the summer of 2021, Wilsey said.
That flight was originally slated to begin in early May
as a Saturday nonstop service to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).
"American Network Planners told us in April/May that BOS was going to be delayed by a year due to COVID 19. We will not know if it’s in the schedule until Spring 2021, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the airline industry. BOS is a strong market for ILM. I will do my best to hold them to their word in 2021," Wilsey said.
As for the added capacities and flight frequency, Wilsey said, "It’s getting better gradually. ILM is near the top of the national trendline."
"The airline network planners and schedulers are trying to get schedules out on their normal timeline – 60 days out. In the COVID-19 environment, this is extremely challenging for them," Wilsey said. "We hope to see a more robust schedule than October 2020, but it is uncertain until the airlines release it."