The Fort Smith Regional Airport is in the final phases of a $10 million project to build a new taxiway on the northwest side of the main runway that will meet Federal Aviation Administration specs, and improve safety and convenience for commercial and general aviation.
John Parker, executive director of the regional airport, said the final phase should be complete within four months. He said the final $5.5 million phase will create a “true parallel” taxiway to the runway that is common on most U.S. commercial runways.
When finished, the true parallel taxiway will support a new CRJ-700 jet that Delta Airlines plans to use in Fort Smith beginning Sept. 1. Delta is reducing its service into Fort Smith by one flight a day, but the new jet has almost double the seating capacity of the planes now used. The new jet also has a first-class cabin option.
“That’s (first class) something we have not had before in our market,” Parker said.
Although activity has taken a recent dip, enplanements at the regional airport have grown in recent years. Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport total 36,065 for the first five months of 2015, down 0.74% compared to the same period in 2014. Enplanements at Fort Smith totaled 92,869 in 2014, up 9.87% compared to 2013.
May enplanements at Fort Smith totaled 7,688, down 8.15% from May 2014. The airport offers flights to Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth through Delta and American Airlines, respectively.
By way of comparison, enplanements at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport totaled 251,389 for the first five months of 2015, up 3.05% compared to the same period in 2014. The Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock posted enplanements of 379,831 for the first five months of 2015, down 8.67% compared to the same period in 2014.
A parallel taxiway is not the only feature designed to boost convenience and safety at the Fort Smith field. Also on the northwest side of the regional airport is a dual fence system along Savannah Street and Old Greenwood Road. Parker said the outer fence is a “sacrificial fence” – or, he joked, the “NASCAR catch fence” – that prevents auto accidents from entering the perimeter of the airport.
Before the catch fence, an auto accident could threaten to halt airport activity until the perimeter was secured.
“Now when something like that happens, it does not impact our security profile,” Parker said.