Improved economic conditions and stable air fare rates in 2014 helped the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) set a new enplanement record, and helped the Fort Smith Regional Airport post an almost 10% enplanement gain.
Gains at XNA and Fort Smith were better than the national trend. Between January and October (the latest data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation), there were 64.717 million domestic enplanements, up 3.34% compared to the same period in 2013.
XNA ended 2014 with 640,537 enplanements, up 10.15% over 2013, and more than the record of 598,886 enplanements in 2007. The 2014 gain also marked the third consecutive year of increased traffic at the airport.
For all of 2013, XNA enplanements totaled 579,679, up 2.58% compared to the same period in 2012. Enplanements at XNA totaled 565,045 during 2012, up just 0.4% compared to 2011. XNA’s first full year of traffic was 1999, and the airport posted eight consecutive years of enplanement gains before seeing a decline in 2008.
Enplanements at the smaller commercial airport in Fort Smith totaled 92,869 in 2014, up 9.87% compared to 2013.
For all of 2013, enplanements at the airport totaled 84,520, down 2.46% compared to the same period in 2012. The decline ended three consecutive years of enplanement gains at the airport. Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport totaled 86,653 during 2012, just ahead of the 86,234 in 2011, and marked three consecutive years of enplanement gains.
Increased holiday air travel could have helped XNA and the Fort Smith airport end the year on a positive note. Airlines for America, the trade group for most U.S. airlines, predicted that 45 million Americans would travel by air during the winter holiday travel, up 2% over the 2013-2014 period.
December enplanements at XNA totaled 49,057, up 7.6% compared to December 2013. The Fort Smith airport had 7,409 enplanements in December, up 9.5% compared to December 2013.
“As more customers take to the skies this holiday season, travelers will continue to benefit from the significant investments U.S. airlines are making – to the tune of more than $1 billion per month – into amenities at the airport and in the skies that further enhance the travel experience,” said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for Airlines for America.
LITTLE ROCK DECLINE
The Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock is likely to be the only one of Arkansas’ largest commercial airports to not post an enplanement increase in 2014. Through November, the airport had 956,016 enplanements, down 4.64% compared to the same period in 2013. (The airport did not have December data available as of Jan. 19).
Little Rock enplanements in 2013 totaled 1.085 million, down 5.45% compared to 2012. Enplanements in 2012 totaled 1.147 million, up 4.07% compared to 2011. The 2012 numbers ended five consecutive years of enplanement declines at Arkansas’ largest commercial field.
Standard & Poor’s Rating Services recently affirmed its “A” rating on outstanding revenue bonds issued for the Little Rock airport. The financial outlook continues to be stable for the two- year rating period. S&P noted in its report that the airport has posted consistently improved financial profile despite declining enplanements. A concern noted by the ratings agency was that the population of the airport’s service area limits enplanement growth to economic growth in central Arkansas. S&P said airline mergers and route restructuring were to blame for enplanement declines.
ENPLANEMENT HISTORY (Fort Smith Regional Airport, since 2000)
ENPLANEMENT HISTORY (Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, since 2000)