The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) in Highfill oversaw its largest number of local enplanements ever in the month of June.
There were 68,274 enplanements — or outbound passengers — who departed from the airport that month. That’s the most since the airport opened in November 1998. It’s only the third time monthly enplanements have topped the 65,000 mark in the airport’s history, all coming in the month of June. The previous record month was June 2016, with 65,253 enplanements.
XNA is the second-largest airport in Arkansas, behind Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, which reported 98,564 enplanements in June, up 2.44% from June 2016. Fort Smith Regional Airport, the state’s third-largest airport, reported 8,304 enplanements in June, up 5.36% from June 2016.
Scott Van Laningham has been the CEO of XNA since it opened nearly 20 years ago. He said the June report indicates more demand. But it’s also a reflection of certain airlines adding more seats in a strategy to squeeze more passengers onto flights.
“Even the regional jets that used to [have] around 50 seats or even 60 seats, now some have first-class cabins and have 70 to 75 seats,” Van Laningham said.
For the year, enplanements at XNA were up 5.12% in the first six months of the year, from 316,680 in 2016 to 332,902 in 2017.
“That is the sort of growth we like to see,” Van Laningham said. “Five percent is a manageable growth rate, and if we can sustain that, we’d just be tickled pink. In terms of the construction and the planning and all the other stuff that you have to account for, five percent is perfect.”
The number of passengers departing from XNA has increased 19% from 2011 (562,747) to 2016 (669,487). XNA is responding to the passenger growth with a $35 million parking deck. Nabholz started construction on the four-story parking deck in mid-January.
Van Laningham said construction workers are continuing to pour concrete primarily on the second level, but have also started preliminary work on the third level. He said the project is on schedule to be complete by August 2018.
The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority, which operates the airport, employs 47 full-time employees, Van Laningham said. Counting the number of airline, ground transportation, concessionaire, security and federal government employees, Van Laningham said the number of people who work at the airport is approximately 700.