NEW CASTLE, Del. — Anyone traveling through New Castle County this month might notice new highway billboards advertising something called Wilmington Airport.
No, the ads are not promoting a new facility.
They are part of an “awareness” campaign for the state’s largest civil airfield – one that just happens to have a rather fluid name.
“Technically, the name is still the New Castle County Airport,” said James Salmon, a spokesman for the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA). “But almost everybody who works there, as well as people outside of Delaware, still call it the Wilmington Airport.”
The DRBA, a bi-state government agency that manages the airport under a 30-year lease with New Castle County, refers to the facility as New Castle Airport on its website.
Some outside businesses that support operation, meanwhile, call it Greater Wilmington Airport.
Frontier Airlines – which provided commercial airline service there until June – called it Wilmington/Philadelphia Regional Airport.
And the International Air Transport Association – a trade group made up of 260 airlines – refers to it simply by the three-letter code ILG.
“At some point soon, we’re going to have to come to grips with all the alternate names out there through a re-branding effort,” Salmon said. “But we’re not there yet.”
For now, he said, the DRBA is focused on promoting what goes on inside the 1,250-acre airport, rather than the name out front.
Late last month, the DRBA paid about $35,000 to put up the three billboards in Delaware along busy highways in northern Delaware. A fourth is located just over the state line on U.S. 322 in Pennsylvania.
Designed by the Wilmington agency Deardorff Associates, the advertisements consist of single-sentence messages, such as “An amazing amount of business takes off here,” and “Helping the Delaware economy fly,” laid over images of airplanes or a listing of businesses at the facility.
One includes the words “industry,” ”jobs,” ”development” and “revenue” underneath the message, “We’re a lot more than just planes.”
“It’s a way for us to get our story out there – a story we don’t often tell and one the public might not be aware of,” said John Sarro, the DRBA’s airport marketing manager.
That story, he said, is about the airport’s economic impact in New Castle County and its role as an engine of job creation.
“Many people who drive by every day may not understand what goes on here other than passenger service,” he said. “They may not know about the jobs that are here or the economic development.”
When the DRBA took over the airport from the county in 1995, the facility was wallowing in debt. Today, the airport is a profitable enterprise with several new or upgraded buildings.
A 2013 economic impact study commissioned by DelDOT found that businesses at New Castle Airport – as it identified the facility – directly employed more than 1,600 workers, with another 700 indirectly supported by those companies.
The total economic impact of the facility at that time, the study found, was $240.5 million a year – resulting in an annual state and local tax contribution of $10.5 million.
Yet those numbers were down from a similar study conducted in 2007, with employment supported by the airport having slid 5 percent and total economic impact down by 13 percent.
That followed a similar trend recorded at two of Delaware’s three general aviation airports and most of the state’s six smaller public-use airports as those facilities continued to recover from the 2008 recession.