Staff photo by Allison Potter
A plane taxis near Runway 17-35 at the Wilmington International Airport on Tuesday, Oct. 1. Federal grants will be used to improve the runway and increase service at the airport.
Wilmington International Airport plans to use some recently announced federal grants totaling more than $7 million to improve one of its runways and increase service, possibly to Chicago.
Federal and airport officials announced several U.S. Department of Transportation grants in September, the end of the federal fiscal year.
They include grants through the Federal Aviation Administration worth about $5.4 million, $1 million and $102,000 to help with airfield improvements related to the rehabilitation of Runway17-35 — the airport’s north-south runway — and a $750,000 FAA Small Community Air Service Development Program grant.
The $750,000 was part of a competitive grant to help small communities attract air service, and examples in the grant application include pursuing some service to go westbound to Chicago, airport officials said.
“The grant was primarily written to restore some of that nonstop activity back west for us,” airport finance director Jim Morton said Friday, Sept. 27. “It adds to your connections to have another large city like Chicago.”
ILM had service to Chicago for several months until American Airlines had to cut some flights last year due to bankruptcy, airport deputy director Julie Wilsey said Sept. 27.
“We’re actually trying to revive that service to Chicago,” Wilsey said. “It was a great flight; it had great connections.”
In addition to the $750,000 federal grant, airport officials got about $211,000 worth of pledges from local government and business officials to match it, and local businesses wrote about 150 letters of support to go with the grant application, she said.
“We feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to get these grants in the past few weeks,” Wilsey said. “We’ve been working very hard to line up opportunities for these grants. We really want to thank all of the companies in the community.”
Added or restored service can help local employees commute to western destinations for business trips and can improve business recruitment opportunities by helping businesses out west travel to Wilmington for training and other purposes, Morton said.
“The more nonstop you have, the better,” Morton said.
The other grants will help ILM overlay its north-south runway, add lights and other equipment such as a precision approach path indicator, acquire easements and clear obstructing trees, Wilsey said.
That project will start in April 2014 and take about three or four months to complete, Wilsey said.
Runway pavement typically lasts about a 20-year cycle, and 20 years have passed since the north-south runway was last rehabilitated, airport officials said.
The airport’s other runway, Runway 624 that runs east-west, was repaved about eight or nine years ago, Wilsey said.
The north-south runway, which is roughly 7,000 feet, will be closed during the overlay project, but the east-west runway will still be operating during that period for regular commercial, corporate and general aviation planes, Wilsey said.
“We have plenty of capacity,” Wilsey said.
The airport recently added about 400 feet to its north-south runway, so it will be longer when it reopens next September, Wilsey said.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Rep. Mike McIntyre, both D-N.C., announced several of the grants last month.
“Helping ILM improve and add additional air service will be a benefit to travelers and the entire New Hanover County region,” McIntyre said in a Sept. 27 news release about the community air service grant.
“This grant will make crucial improvements to the Wilmington Airport runway that will make it a safer place for travelers and workers,” Hagan said in a Sept. 24 news release about the overlay project grant. “It is critically important to North Carolina’s economy that we continue making investments in transportation infrastructure.”