Airport traffic dips below 1 million in Little Rock, XNA sets new record

by Kerri Jackson Case ([email protected]) 639 views 

Arkansas. Blue suitcase with label at airport.

Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by Talk Business & Politics, and sponsored by Arvest Bank. Supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.


It was a mixed bag for Arkansas’ three largest airports in 2015. Clinton National Airport in Little Rock fell below a million enplanements, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) for the second consecutive year set a new record for traffic, and the Fort Smith Regional Airport saw traffic fall more than 7%.

After three months of increases, Clinton National Airport in Little Rock saw a decrease in passengers in December. Officials cited weather related cancellations at destination airports for the the majority of the monthly decrease. (See table of enplanement history for the three airports at the end of this report.)

For 2015 on the whole, traveler count was down 4.29% at the state’s largest commercial airport. Roughly 1.9 million people flew in and out of Little Rock last year. That’s approximately 89,000 fewer than 2014.

Enplanements were below 1 million, the first time enplanements dropped below the million mark since at least 2000 (the most recent year numbers are available). Much of that falloff is attributed to the consolidation of airlines, and by extension their HUBS, as well as the repeal of the Wright Amendment which forced planes from Love Field to fly only in Texas or an adjoining state.

Little Rock Airport Commissioner Jim Dailey noted that customer surveys indicate the majority of the travelers through the airport are leisure travelers rather than business travelers. He suggested the commission and staff be “in dialogue with the business community to increase business travel.”

The carrier mix continues to be what airport staff called “competitive” with Southwest, Delta and American Eagle each accounting for 27% of the flights at Little Rock. T.J. Williams, director of air service development, said Delta increased service to Atlanta from six flights to seven, which accounts for the 10% bump in Delta traffic for the year.

Earlier this month, Southwest reinstated nonstop service to St. Louis, re-routing planes and crews, which had previously been used for nonstop service to Baltimore and Chicago Midway. There is no longer nonstop service from Little Rock to Baltimore, but passengers can take American Eagle to Chicago O’Hare.

By comparison, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport was also down in total travelers for December 1.21%. However, for 2015 the airport had 643,320 enplanements, up 1.09% for the year. A total of 1.29 million people flew in or out of XNA last year. Enplanements were up nearly 2,800 passengers.

A third of the traffic at XNA was on American Eagle (32.75%). United Express (13%) and US Air (9%) were a distant second and third in passenger count.

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 Fort Smith Regional Airport 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.

December enplanements in Fort Smith were 6,315, down from 7,409 in December 2014.

ENPLANEMENT HISTORY (Clinton National Airport-Little Rock, since 2000)
2015:  996,837
2014: 1.038 million
2013: 1.085 million
2012: 1.147 million
2011: 1.103 million
2010: 1.124 million
2009: 1.134 million
2008: 1.193 million
2007: 1.267 million
2006: 1.275 million
2005: 1.265 million
2004: 1.138 million
2003: 1.063 million
2002: 1.101 million
2001: 1.211 million
2000: 1.276 million

ENPLANEMENT HISTORY (Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, since 2000)
2015: 643,320
2014: 640,537
2013: 581,487
2012: 565,045
2011: 562,747
2010: 570,625
2009: 540,918
2008: 571,845
2007: 598,886
2006: 586,320
2005: 583,940
2004: 511,714
2003: 448,228
2002: 400,063
2001: 374,122
2000: 367,157

ENPLANEMENT HISTORY (Fort Smith Regional Airport, since 2000)
2015: 86,704
2014: 92,869
2013: 84,520
2012: 86,653
2011: 86,234
2010: 86,129
2009: 78,432
2008: 87,030
2007: 99,127
2006: 94,717
2005: 102,607
2004: 92,928
2003: 90,493
2002: 87,944
2001: 95,419
2000: 104,182