Triangle Business Journal
Talk to Wilmington International Airport Director Julie Wilsey and one gets a sense her “to-do” list never gets short — it only grows.
Less than 18 months into her job, Wilsey is busy talking to airport directors of larger cities and finding a niche for ILM and the 800,000 (outbound and inbound) flyers it serves every year. “Not only are we a transportation facility, we also our developing our business park to generate new revenue.”
With an $8.4 million budget, Wilsey is acutely aware that for the airport to grow, she will need more revenue. And the top priority for Wilsey and her team right now — to get new air service and to expand the tenant base of ILM’s (Wilmington’s federally assigned airport code) business park.
“We are working with our carriers to get Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth nonstop service from ILM,” Wilsey says. “We are building a business plan for the carriers.” While Wilsey admits that adding nonstop air service from Wilmington will always be a challenge given its size, load factor and profitability of the 20-plus daily direct flights from ILM are robust. ILM currently offers nonstop service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, New York LaGuardia Airport, Washington National Airport and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Delta serves the Atlanta route. American serves the others.
For Wilsey, though, Wilmington airport’s business model becomes more attractive when airport officials are able to generate new sources of revenue.
Hence, more attention to the business park. Just last week, Wilsey hired Carol LeTellier as a business development director of the airport whose mission is to attract new tenants to the 140-acre business park. “We are looking for tenants who want office and retail space,” to fill up the new 10,000 square feet building on the site.
With the VA Health Care Center, 84 Lumber and a laser entertainment center as the main attractions of the business park, ILM is bringing in about $500,000 in revenue from the park — about 6 percent of the total airport budget.
Like most airports, ILM’s parking fees total 39 percent of the budget followed by airlines and rental car fees that account for another 25 percent of the budget.
Wilsey has a formidable challenge on her hands.
When asked who she considers her biggest competition, she is quick to say — Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
A study done a few years back concluded Wilmington loses some 23 percent of its target market to RDU. That means about 277,000 local passengers drive to or drive from RDU to get to their final destination. ‘The good news is we are still able to retain 64 percent of our passengers,” Wilsey says.
ILM is the fifth largest airport in North Carolina, and is among the most expensive when it comes to average roundtrip fare. A study on North Carolina airports show Asheville airport with an average roundtrip fare of $208, followed by RDU at $219. Wilmington’s average fare was about $237 for a roundtrip.
With some large companies such as PPD, nCino, UNC-Wilmington, Alcami Corp. and Live Oak Bancshares in its backyard, Wilsey is crafting a business plan for the airport that caters more to business travel. Because she knows if carriers were to double down on ILM, yields on the 1,300 seats each day have to be there.
“The business community can help us forward that discussion,” she says. “We are pushing forward.”