After years of talking about the need for more parking, Wilmington airport officials hope to have a new satellite lot near the existing rental-car lot open before the start of the busy holiday travel season. An expansion of the employee lot on the south side of the terminal should open in March.
Airport Director Jon Rosborough said both lots will be unmanned, meaning payment will be by credit card or debit card only.
But the $1.2 million project to add nearly 330 spots, which gives the airport roughly 1,200 long-term and short-term spaces, comes as passenger numbers have dipped 11 percent compared to 2005.
Last year was the busiest in the history of Wilmington International Airport, with more than 700,000 passengers passing through the terminal.
But Rosborough said the need is there today and will only increase as the airport and the region continue to grow.
"We can't expand our parking areas every year, and we hope this will meet our future needs for several years," he said.
The last parking expansion, which added 148 spots to the long-term lot, wrapped up in early 2001.
Rosborough added that the existing lots have filled up several times this summer, especially over holiday weekends, forcing the airport to open temporary lots and even use the parking area in front of the old terminal.
Passenger numbers also appear to be rebounding, with September's boardings running just 4 percent behind September 2005's level and preliminary October passenger numbers essentially even with last year.
"We're starting to see greater numbers of people flying, which is an encouraging sign," Rosborough said.
Wilmington has long marketed its close parking as a major selling point compared to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
But more than passenger convenience, parking also is a major money-maker for the airport.
Rosborough said parking revenue generates about 41 percent of the airport's $5.3 million budget.
The new lot, which the airport hopes to open before Thanksgiving, is just south of the rental-car lot near the terminal's baggage claim area. The second lot is an expansion of the employee lot near the terminal's ticketing side.
Once that lot opens around March, the parking area near the rental-car lot will become the new employee lot.
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