Passenger numbers at ILM on the rise as airport adjusts to financial hit of pandemic

Passenger numbers at ILM on the rise as airport adjusts to financial hit of pandemic

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In April of this year, an average of just 61 passengers per day were boarding a plane out of Wilmington International Airport (ILM) as the pandemic led to canceled vacations and business trips.

Where 2019 saw 45,317 passengers, 2020 brought just 1,839. For arrivals it was much the same, with just 1,963 compared to 44,175 the year before.

May saw some improvement as North Carolina moved into “Phase 2″ of its reopening plan, but even still only 14,348 passengers came and went.

Now, airport director Julie Wilsey said, bookings for July and August are hovering around 20% of what they typically would be this time of year.

Numbers from March, April and May show how the coronavirus pandemic dramatically reduced the number of passengers coming in and out of ILM.
Numbers from March, April and May show how the coronavirus pandemic dramatically reduced the number of passengers coming in and out of ILM. (Source: WECT)

“Our loads are down a little bit,” she said. “But week after week, we see continued improvement.”

The airlines are seeing improvement too — an official for American Airlines at ILM said Tuesday the airline will more than double its daily departures from Wilmington, going from just six to 13 flights out.

That official said those flights are all departing around 90% full.

However, the extremely low numbers over the late spring have already had an effect on the airport’s balance sheet.

One of ILM’s main revenue sources is parking, which for the month of may was down 93% compared to its budget — instead of bringing in the expected $416,720, the parking lots generated just $28,194.

Thanks to the CARES Act out of Washington, D.C., however, Wilsey said they’ve been able to keep the lights on and employees on the payroll.

“We are still open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So our employees are Always here, always clean the building are always ready for our travelers to fly,” she said.

ILM was approved for about $20 million in grant funds thanks to the CARES Act.

Despite some parts of the country going back into lockdown as coronavirus cases surge, Wilsey said she is optimistic passenger counts will continue to go up.

“Our industry is extremely dynamic,” she said, “We will rebound from this. Air travel is really important, for both leisure and business travelers. It is going to come back and we’re doing everything we can with our partners, the airlines, the TSA, the rental cars, everything we can to make people feel comfortable that this is a safe environment.”

That includes adding social distancing markers and reminders to wear masks as part of the airport’s “Until the Coast is Clear” initiative.

Wilsey said high touch areas such as ticket kiosks are sanitized regularly, and a third TSA checkpoint has been opened during peak times to allow for better social distancing.

Additionally, she said the airport’s multi-phase capital project to expand the terminal is still on track.

“We believe that this community is going to continue to grow, the demand for air travel will continue to grow,” she said. “So we did not slow that project down.”

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