XNA corrects enplanement discrepancy, looks to bill United after not reporting data

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 1,000 views 

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) updated its enplanement numbers as far back as 2015 to reflect aircraft landings that weren’t reported, leading to a more than 57,000 enplanement discrepancy over the almost three-year period. As a result, XNA expects to receive about $175,000 for the landings that weren’t reported and give more than $60,000 in credits to other carriers that were overbilled for use of the airport.

Between January and July, enplanements, or the passengers flying out, were 418,507, instead of 393,793, or a nearly 25,000 enplanement discrepancy. In 2016, enplanements rose 8.05% to 699,672 in 2016, from 649,741 in 2015, instead of rising 3.3% to 669,487, from 647,530 — a more than 30,000 enplanement discrepancy. In 2015, enplanements rose 1.43%, from 2014, instead of 1.09%. The 2015 discrepancy was more than 2,200 enplanements.

“We’ve never had this happen before,” airport director Kelly Johnson said.

An affiliate carrier for United Airlines wasn’t reporting its landing data, throwing off XNA’s enplanement data. The discrepancy became clear after comparing enplanement numbers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to the numbers the carriers report to XNA.

The discrepancy between the FAA and carrier reports “was substantial,” according to an Oct. 5 memo to the board from CEO Scott Van Laningham. “That prompted the airport staff to do an audit of the airline enplanement reports.” The airport recently received its annual enplanement report for 2016 from the FAA but uses monthly reports from carriers to determine its enplanement numbers.

“This has been an ongoing challenge for us this year,” Johnson said. When staff previously discovered the issue and billed the carrier for the unreported landings, the carrier went on to not report its landings for the next two months.

On (Wednesday) Oct. 11, Van Laningham explained to members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority that the carrier wasn’t being “deliberate or malicious” in not reporting the landings. United has 12-13 affiliate carriers, and “somebody wasn’t getting one of those affiliate’s numbers that they were reporting to us.”

United told Johnson it might have a systems issue if the data isn’t being reported. XNA staff have sent documents to the carrier to see if it would concur with the corrected data, and send a bill the carrier based on that information.

“Unfortunately that doesn’t just affect that airline,” Johnson said. Enplanements are used to determine billing for the common use space of the airport, and because the carrier underreported enplanements, other carriers were overcharged. “Not only will we be back bill United, but we’ll also be giving credits back to the other carriers here.”

If United agrees with the corrected information, credits will be issued to the other carriers.

“We’re trying to find a consultant that can give us more real-time enplanement numbers,” Johnson said. “So far we haven’t found anybody that can produce that for us.”

The airport also is working with another company to receive landing data a few weeks after the end of the month, “so we can compare actuals to actuals,” she said. “It will still have a lag of a few weeks, but at least we’ll have a tool to use going forward to make sure that we’re getting all the landings.”

In August, enplanements fell 2.1% to 60,505, from 61,802. Between January and August, enplanements have risen 4.91% to 479,012, from 456,580 over the same period in 2016.

Storms likely impacted enplanements in August, Johnson said. On Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey initially made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast and disrupted flights to Houston. Johnson expects September enplanements will be impacted as a result of Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Florida on Sept. 10.

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