Like many airports across the country, Wilmington International Airport took a hit from the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but this year the airport moved beyond recovery into growth mode.
ILM is on track to hit 1 million total passengers this year, as it did for the first time in 2019. In May, August, September and October, the airport logged some of the best numbers on record for those months.
The growth in passengers is fueled by a variety of factors, among them the addition of the airport’s first low-cost carriers connecting to new markets with cheap nonstop flights.
The airport announced its first low-cost carrier in April, and Avelo Airlines started service June 30 with routes to New Haven, Connecticut, and Orlando Florida, plus seasonal service to Baltimore. Within a month, Avelo announced a fourth seasonal route to Fort Lauderdale, which began in November. That same month, the airport landed a second low-cost carrier. Beginning in June, Sun Country Airlines will connect Wilmington to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport for seasonal service through Labor Day weekend.
Legacy carriers American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also increased their operations at ILM with larger aircraft, plus Delta recently made its seasonal nonstop service to LaGuardia Airport a permanent route.
A new concourse that opened in February added more than 77,000 square feet and three gates to serve the flood of new passengers at ILM. Part of a yearslong expansion project initiated nearly a decade ago, the airport is also getting improved space for baggage claim and concessions.
This year also brought big news for business development on airport property, with airport officials inking deals for more than 100 acres of ground leases in the ILM Business Park. 84 Lumber and CIL Capital both made moves to expand their footprint near the airport, while ML ILM LLC (Moto Leader Global) plans to build a new warehouse hangar to house its operations.
This flurry of development, if the ground leases proceed, will net the airport nearly $2 million in additional annual income. Airport director Jeff Bourk said he sees these deals building momentum for more development on airport grounds.
“Momentum leads to momentum. It leads to good things,” Bourk said in an October interview with WilmingtonBiz Magazine.
The quick clip of development, plus the potential to keep growing, helped ILM snag a deal for a hotel on airport grounds this year, a longtime goal of airport officials.
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The 2023 WilmingtonBiz: Book on Business is an annual publication showcasing the Wilmington region as a center of business.