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TOP STORIES: Internal, External Upheaval At ILM

By Johanna F. Still, posted Dec 17, 2021
With a controversy surrounding the ousting of its top official and an ongoing expansion project, ILM had a busy year in 2021. (Photo by Johanna F. Still)
Wilmington International Airport has undergone major personnel and physical overhauls this year. To start, the airport will soon welcome a new executive director, Jeffrey Bourk, who begins Jan. 3. Bourk replaces Julie Wilsey, the former airport director who the airport authority in June voted to remove. The authority shelled out $315,000 to buy Wilsey out of her contract and has remained mum on why.
 
A West Point graduate who spent over two decades at ILM, Wilsey had served as director since 2015. Longtime deputy director Gary Broughton, who had initially planned to retire in the fall, stepped in as interim director.
 
On the infrastructure side, construction work on the last portion of ILM’s three-phase expansion project continued. The $61 million expansion by Monteith Construction Corp. is expected to wrap by January 2023. The second phase concluded last year, including an expanded ticket lobby.
 
The ongoing third phase – the most comprehensive yet – adds utilities, foundations, roofing and other components for four new gates, greatly expanding the airport’s footprint. In August, the airport received a $16 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to finance accessibility- related parts of the project.
 
Over the summer, ILM announced it would receive $6.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds that it used toward operations, personnel and pandemic-related expenses.
 
In November, the airport authority signed two leases with industrial real estate developers, paving the way for a $120 million investment across two separate projects. One venture will create cold storage facilities for the life sciences industry, and the other will build speculative warehouse space.
 
As investments are made in the airport’s infrastructure, passenger trends are catching up with, and in some cases, exceeding prepandemic numbers. After a slower start to the year, passenger arrivals and departures reached 2019 numbers beginning in June. Between June and October, departures were just 2% shy of 2019 figures and arrivals were 3% higher.
 
International travel restrictions prompted by the omicron variant so far haven’t impacted ILM, according to spokesperson Erin McNally.
 
McNally said in a Dec. 9 interview, “Since June, we’ve had really strong passenger numbers ... We are looking forward to sustaining the leisure travel and then welcoming back additional business travelers in the months ahead.”
 
As the year ended, the airport authority helped broker a deal between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense, resulting in an agreement to dial down the effects of military usage of ILM’s runways. Increased military planes using ILM, spurred by a refueling contract secured by Modern Aviation last year, led to copious noise complaints.

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