Early 2016 airport traffic trends up for Little Rock, down for XNA and Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 193 views 

Arkansas. Blue suitcase with label at airport.

Editor’s note: This report is a component of the Arkansas Transportation Report, a monthly compilation of data and news regarding the trucking, railroad, airline, and river barge industries.


The airport traffic tables have turned in early 2016, with Clinton National Airport in Little Rock up more than 4% for the first two months of the year, and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) is down almost 2%. The Fort Smith Regional Airport posted a sharp drop of almost 17% for the first two months.

It was a slightly different story for Arkansas’ three largest airports in 2015. Clinton National Airport fell below a million enplanements, XNA set a new record for traffic, and Fort Smith saw traffic fall more than 7%.

Little Rock enplanements totaled 135,991 for the first two months of 2016, up 4.13% compared to the same period in 2015. February enplanements totaled 68,027 in Little Rock, up 9.82% compared to February 2015.

American Airlines, the largest carrier in Little Rock by enplanements, posted a 28.27% gain in the January-February period. Southwest Airlines, the second largest carrier, had a 1.89% gain for the January-February period.

Clinton National Airport officials are optimistic about March enplanements.

“Glo will begin nonstop service to Destin-Fort Walton Beach on Friday, March 25. We’ve reached 105,437 people through social media to build awareness of the route. By the end of the month, we will be working with the airline to start an online ticket giveaway campaign to gain additional exposure,” airport staff noted in a report to the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission.

The commission report also noted that Southwest Airlines began the second phase of its social media campaign to market St. Louis service. The campaign was scheduled to run through the end of March.

For 2015, Little Rock enplanements totaled 996,837, down 4.29%. Roughly 1.9 million people flew in and out of Little Rock last year, approximately 89,000 fewer than 2014. Enplanements were below 1 million, the first time enplanements dropped below the million mark since 1991.

XNA, which for the second consecutive year in 2015 set a new record for traffic, had 86,518 enplanements in the January-February period, down 1.84%. February enplanements were 43,334, down just 0.86%.

Part of the decline at XNA can be attributed to American Airlines, the largest carrier at the Northwest Arkansas field. January-February enplanements for American at XNA totaled 30,971, down 3.19% compared to the same period in 2016.

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.

Fort Smith Regional Airport enplanements totaled 11,172 for the first two months of 2016, down 16.68% compared to the same period in 2015.

Airport Director John Parker said two things likely played into the decline. “Significant” weather in the Dallas area in January caused flight cancellations – which may have also lowered the XNA numbers – and the early 2015 traffic in Fort Smith was higher than usual.

“We really had strong numbers in 2015, in that early half. … So any return to normal shows up as an extra deep drop because we had good months in the previous year,” Parker said.

Parker said the planes serving Fort Smith are being upgraded from the CRJ 200 model (around 45 seats), to the CRJ 900 model (around 75 seats).

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.