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Passenger Trends On Par With Pre-COVID Numbers At ILM 

By Johanna F. Still, posted Dec 13, 2021
Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting has found ILM's passenger totals as a comparison to pre-pandemic figures are outperforming national and state averages. (Courtesy ILM)

After a slower start to the year, Wilmington International Airport’s (ILM) latest passenger trends are essentially matching 2019 numbers. 

The airport’s performance is exceeding peer airports and the national average, according to its consultant’s analysis, as travelers gain more confidence after a tumultuous year for travel in 2020. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, TSA screened 2.4 million people nationwide, marking a new high since COVID arrived, with a 10-day total reaching roughly 89% of pre-pandemic levels. 

Passenger confidence clearly jumped in June, closing a narrowing gap between pre-pandemic figures. There wasn’t a single policy or moment that prompted the shift, according to ILM spokesperson Erin McNally. 

“As vaccines became more readily available, traveler sentiment and sentiment towards travel increased and trended in a more positive direction,” McNally explained. Coupled with “pent-up travel demand,” she said, the strong trends have sustained. 

As an airport with only domestic non-stop flights, ILM hasn’t seen any impacts prompted by the omicron variant, according to McNally, which has led to international travel restrictions that began late last month. Destination Analysts’ latest traveler sentiment survey shows Americans are feeling more hesitant about traveling with the new strain, which could dampen the latest strong trends. 

The same report shows Americans are looking forward to taking more leisure trips next year, possibly to make up for lost time during the pandemic, McNally said. “We're looking forward to seeing the trends continue in a positive direction.”

Crew shortages have prompted a handful of cancellations at ILM thus far, but haven’t significantly hampered ILM as they present a greater concern for the connecting airports.

Between June and October, ILM’s departures were only 2% short of the same timeframe in 2019 and arrivals were 3% above. 

In July, passenger counts actually exceeded July 2019 totals; October arrivals were 7% above October 2019. Including the slower first quarter figures – still lagging due to the pandemic – ILM is at 82% of its pre-pandemic revenue passenger totals as of October. (November totals have not yet been submitted or approved.)

ILM’s air service consultant, Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting, is tracking the airport’s total revenue and non-revenue TSA passenger throughput data compared to peer airports. The consultant has continued to find ILM is outperforming the national average in an analysis of this year’s passenger figures compared to 2019. Passenger totals last month were just 8% shy of November 2019, a healthy margin ahead of the state and nation’s 16-point differential. 

Parking revenues haven’t reached 2019 levels yet, but ILM has seen indications that business travel is picking up. Short-term parking, more commonly utilized by business travelers, is on the rise, McNally said. 

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