Arkansas Transportation Report: Enplanements show slight increase at state’s ‘Big Three’ airports in 2016

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 335 views 

Editor’s note: The Arkansas Transportation Report is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Other transportation industry related stories can be found on the Arkansas Transportation Report landing page.


Traffic out of Arkansas’ three largest commercial airports was up in 2016, with the largest increase seen in Northwest Arkansas.

Enplanements — or outbound passengers — at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) in Highfill, the second-largest airport in the state, totaled a record 669,487 last year, up 3.39% from the previous record of 647,530 enplanements in 2015. 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.

December enplanements at XNA totaled 55,339, up 14.1% from 48,461 in December 2015. 2017 is also off to a strong start, with the airport reporting 46,287 enplanements in January, a 7.1% increase from January 2015 totals.

Despite staying below the 1 million mark for the second consecutive year, enplanements at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock were up 0.42% to 996,897 last year. That’s compared to 992,712 enplanements in 2015. December enplanements were 81,698, down 0.23% compared to December 2015.

The last two years are the first two years since 1991 that enplanements at the state’s largest airport have been below 1 million.

Fort Smith Regional Airport enplanements were 87,488 in 2016, up only marginally compared to 86,704 enplanements in 2015. December enplanements totaled 7,216, up 14.2% compared to December 2015. Fort Smith’s 2015 enplanement totals were 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.

Fort Smith’s airport numbers are also off to a strong start in 2017, with 6,391 enplanements reported in January. That’s up from 5,500 enplanements in January 2016, an increase of 16.2%

Despite continued declines reported in iron and steel shipments, food and farm products and petroleum products, traffic on the Arkansas River in 2016 totaled 11.542 million tons, up nearly 16% compared to 2015.

2016 was a good bounce-back year for the Arkansas River, after tonnage had fallen below 10 million tons in 2015 for the first time in at least four years, with unusually heavy rains during the year closing the river for several months. Information from the U.S. Corps of Engineers shows that 9.962 million tons were shipped in 2015. Tonnage totaled 11.719 million tons in 2014, down from the 12.139 million in 2013 but better than the 11.687 million in 2012 and the 10.6 million in 2011.

In 2016, inbound tonnage totaled 4.170 million tons, down 6% compared to 2015. Outbound tonnage on the Arkansas River was 4.470 million tons, up 39%, and internal tonnage (tons shipped between ports on the river) totaled 2.900 million tons, up 26%.

Iron and steel shipments for the year totaled 1.210 million tons, down 18% compared to 2015. Food and farm products totaled 355,100 tons in 2016, a 22% drop from the previous year, and petroleum products were down 37% at 333,643 tons.

Among the big gainers in 2016 were wheat (up 103% to 1.147 million tons) and other chemicals (up 76% to 185,483 tons).

Following are other figures from the report:

  • The American Trucking Associations’ For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index fell 6.2% in December, following a revised 8.4% jump during November. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2015, tonnage was down 0.7% at the end of December.
  • For the month of January 2017, the Association of American Railroads reported that combined railcar and intermodal traffic was 2.017 million units, up 0.5% compared to the same period in 2016.
  • S. Department of Transportation figures show U.S. November enplanements – the most recent federal data available – totaled 66.930 million, up 3.0% compared to November 2015. In the 12-months ended in November, U.S. enplanements were 826.241 million, up 3.15% compared to the November 2015-November 2016 period.

Link here for a PDF of the February 2017 Arkansas Transportation Report.