story by Jamie Smith
HIGHFILL — Ongoing construction on the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport runway is not expected to negatively impact Thanksgiving travel, airport officials agreed.
Barbara Busiek,airport construction project manager, said the current project is to complete the connections between the taxiways to shorten the distance and amount of time it takes for the planes to go from the main runway to the commercial ramp (where the planes are stored). Major portions of the old runway have also been demolished, she said.
“There’s dirt trucks running constantly,” she said. “It’s something to view but there should be no interruptions to travelers.”
Scott Van Laningham, airport executive director, said the connectors will mean a major
difference to airlines because it will mean less gas and time consumed, but he agreed that most passengers will see little interruption, if any.
The runway work involves rebuilding the main runway and other runway improvements. The work is made possible through $39.5 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration which has come in the form of three different grants.
Van Laningham said that while leisure traffic picks up heavily at XNA for Thanksgiving, it isn’t as noticeable as it is at other airports because the airport’s usual heavy business travel all but comes to a halt during Thanksgiving week.
“The leisure travel fills in where the business travel would have been otherwise,” he said.
According to predictions from AAA, holiday air travel is expected to decline slightly from 3.2 million travelers last year to an estimated 3.14 million this year.
Thanksgiving travel nationwide is expected to increase using other transportation forms, according to the report.
“AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 0.7% over the 43.3 million people who traveled last year,” the report reads. “This increase marks the fourth consecutive year of growing holiday travelers since 2008 when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25%.”
Also according to the report, 90% of travelers will travel by automobile, which is an increase of 0.6%.
Bill Sadler, Arkansas State Police spokesman, said that the state police will have increased patrols on highways throughout the Thanksgiving holiday season.
“We routinely place more personnel during peak travel periods,” he said.
While more people are expected to travel for the holiday, they are expected to spend less — to the tune of about 10%. Thanksgiving continues to be one of the higher spending holidays, largely because of Black Friday shopping that takes place.
“While spending time with friends and relatives and dining are primary activities for nearly all holidays, it is even more relevant for Thanksgiving travelers,” the report reads. “Therefore it is not surprising that spending time with family and friends (75%) and dining (56%) are the most popular activities planned by travelers. Despite lower median spending, half of all travelers (50%) plan to shop during the holiday which can be expected given Black Friday occurs during the holiday weekend.”