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Wilmington Airport expansion includes adding second boarding gate

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Looking ahead, the Delaware River and Bay Authority is planning a overhaul of its terminal, which is close to 70 years in age. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DRBA

On the eve of the anniversary of Avelo’s first flight at the Wilmington Airport (ILG), leaders of the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) revealed plans to expand on what was a record-breaking year for the airport.

The DRBA gave the public a first look last week at a $12 million expansion plan at the Wilmington airport, which includes adding a food service and adding 6,000 square feet of space to the passenger holding room. The end goal would be to add a second gate for boarding passengers.

Right now, the DRBA has planned $6.6 million in its five-year capital improvement plan and is seeking federal grants to further fund the project. The organization has applied for grants through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Terminal Program.

Rick Lucas, a senior project manager at the airport planning group McFarland Johnson, walked stakeholders through the expansion plan at the Delaware Aviation Summit on Jan. 31. Among the improvements include concession service, more restrooms and improving baggage claim and TSA screening capabilities.

“What it comes down to is an inefficient, undersized terminal, and this airport terminal dates back to 1955. Right now, the existing facility can only handle one plane at a time,” Lucas said. “The checkpoint is a single-lane checkpoint, which can only cross 120 passengers per hour. That means you can’t even provide more than one Avelo flight every 90 minutes.”

The renovation plan also includes added parking an exterior renovations, and the hope is that federal funds will help lift the project. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DELAWARE RIVER AND BAY AUTHORITY.

Douglas Bañez, founder and manager of Hubpoint Strategic Advisors, a firm that advises the DRBA, told attendees of the summit that Avelo and ILG are focused on maintaining a “core” handful of destinations, such as Wilmington, NC., Myrtle Beach, five Florida cities and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Since the previous September,  ILG saved passengers $7.9 million in airfare, not including parking and fuel savings. As passenger demand for flights out of the airport increases, ILG runs the risk of outgrowing its facilities.

Parking is also a key concern, as peaks in travel out of ILG often leave passengers with nowhere to park. The DRBA acquired an old hotel next to the airport, which will allow for expanded parking lots once the building is demolished. 

“In the spring months, everyone parks at the [ILG] airport and leaves,” Lucas said. “In months like September, people are leaving Florida, coming up to visit. So the parking demand is not the same.”

The DRBA has also planned to spend $2.8 million this year to create temporary parking by demolishing the former Skyways Motor Lodge Damon’s Grill.

Meanwhile, Bañez said Avelo has been “up to the challenge” so far in promotion and marketing. But as a low-fare, non-daily airline, there is the opportunity for a second “complimentary” airline, he said.

He named airlines such as United, JetBlue and Allegiant as potential additional carriers to new destinations.

“We know that commercial air service is an enabler of economic development,” Bañez said. “This is a highly competitive environment. Airports are jockeying all the time for the next service. And if you’re not in the game, you’re falling behind.”

While nothing is set in stone in terms of adding a second airline, Bañez expressed confidence that the Wilmington Airport’s recent success with Avelo will attract others.

“With all the work that DRBA is doing in passenger air service development, the last thing we would want to happen is for that to be somehow constrained or nullified because the facility can’t handle it,” Bañez told attendees.

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