Correcting an enplanement discrepancy of more than 57,000 over nearly three years might help attract another low-cost carrier to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).
“Higher passenger numbers mean more potential customers,” Airport Director Kelly Johnson said. “The higher the passenger counts, the more attractive we become. They [carriers] need to know they can fill a 160-some-seat aircraft from a market.”
The airport recently updated its enplanement numbers as far back as 2015 to reflect aircraft landings that weren’t reported, and as a result, XNA expects to receive about $175,000 for the unreported landings and give more than $60,000 in credits to other carriers overbilled for use of the airport.
Between January and July, enplanements – 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,” 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 Oct. 11, Van Laningham explained to members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority the carrier wasn’t being “deliberate or malicious” in not reporting the landings. United has 12 to 13 affiliate carriers, and “somebody wasn’t getting one of those affiliate’s numbers that they were reporting to us.”
XNA staff have sent documents to the carrier to see if it would concur with the corrected data and bill the carrier based on that information. United has agreed to pay the charges. Enplanements are used to determine billing for the common use space of the airport, and because the carrier underreported enplanements, other carriers were overcharged.
“Unfortunately that doesn’t just affect that airline,” Johnson said. “Not only will we back bill United, but we’ll also be giving credits back to the other carriers here.”
The airport is working with another company to receive landing data, “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 2016, enplanements at XNA, Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock and Tulsa International Airport (TUL) were 699,672, 996,897 and 1.359 million, respectively, and they charged passenger carriers the following to operate there: $4.452 million, $10.579 million and $11.292 million.