Fort Smith Regional Airport enplanements were down for the first seven months of 2016 by close to 5% compared to the same period in 2015. But for Airport Director John Parker, the number is not yet cause for concern.
Parker said the airport experiences “fluctuations on an annual basis and within the year, every year is different.”
“You’ll have a strong spring the year before, then weaker numbers the following year during that same season and that will reflect as an early decline in numbers overall, whereas you might have a strong winter to bring you back to what you anticipated the year previous,” Parker told Talk Business & Politics.
The airport’s enplanements were 49,801 for the first seven months of 2016, down 4.97% compared to the same period last year. July enplanements totaled 8,208, up 8.65% compared to July 2015. Enplanements totaled 86,704 in 2015, down 7.1% compared to 2014. The 2014 traffic was 92,869, the first time the airport had topped the 90,000 mark since 2007.
Still, there is no sign at present, Parker said, of a downward trend starting to develop.
“It’s hard to say what’s driving those numbers unless you have significant events. For example, you may have a very, very large Wal-Mart stockholders meeting, and that might drive XNA, but also our location. That was the case either last year or the year previous. We saw higher numbers. With the volume of people coming in, they used a number of airports around the region, and an event like that one could have seen traffic going into Tulsa or Springfield as well.”
Parker added: “Our numbers are a little less than 5% (down) at this point, and that could be recovered very easily in the coming months. Being down now — we don’t know if that will be a continuing trend or a recovering trend since last month’s (July) enplanements were up. It may be up-trending by the end of the year.”
Fort Smith Regional is the state’s third largest commercial airport behind Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport and Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).
For the first seven months of 2016, Clinton National saw a 1.42% increase in traffic with 579,137 enplanements versus 571,002 during the same period in 2015. However, July numbers were down 4.03% with 92,447 enplanements versus 96,327 in July 2015.
July enplanements at XNA totaled 63,463, up 1.36% compared to July 2015. Year-to-date, XNA reported 380,143, up just 0.75% compared to the same period in 2015. However, the 2015 enplanements set a new record at 647,530. 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.
During the same period, Fort Smith went from 108,072 enplanements in 1999 to below 100,000 in 2001. In the 15 years since, 2005 was the only other year Fort Smith broke the six-figure barrier with 102,607 enplanements.
Talk Business & Politics reached out to several travel agencies to get their take on the down numbers for Fort Smith, but in most cases, received no response. Carlson Wagonlit/DeramusTravel returned calls but declined comment.