XNA approves rate changes for airlines, delays proposals from shuttle operators

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 359 views 

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority approved changing operating rates for some of the airport’s carriers and installing an electronic guidance system in the parking deck. The board that oversees the airport tabled proposals from shuttle operators after a taxi business owner spoke about the airport’s selection process and an operator that staff had recommended.

On Wednesday (Feb. 14), board chairman Mike Johnson allowed Stu Larrabee, owner of Fayetteville Taxi, to address the board on the proposals from shuttle operators. Larrabee said he’s been in business for five years, and had not heard of one of the operators staff had recommended for approval. Larrabee also had concerns about why the airport staff didn’t research operators before their proposals came to the board for a vote.

“For us to be a little miffed by seeing this go by and not any type of due diligence of just typing a name into a computer and finding all these active cases, and there’s been open warrants for these people in the last year, I have a problem with that, respectfully,” Larrabee said.

After the meeting, Scott Van Laningham, executive director and CEO of XNA, said staff would complete due diligence on the shuttle operators, who submitted proposals, before returning to the board with the proposals. Staff had recommended three companies to the board, including existing providers Pinnacle Car Services and Jim’s Express Shuttle and new provider JCB Executive Car Service. Larrabee also submitted a proposal along with Joe Washington of NWA Taxi but was not selected as one of the companies that staff had recommended.

If the board had approved the proposals as recommended, it would allow airport staff to negotiate contracts with the operators. It also would have allowed a person three business days to appeal the board’s decision. In the proposals, Pinnacle placed the highest minimum guarantee and would receive the first choice at the booths in the terminal, second was Jim’s Express Shuttle, and third, JCB Executive Car Service.

Airport Director Kelly Johnson explained the bids were lower than in previous years, and the shuttle companies’ business has been hurt by ridesharing, or transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft. Pinnacle’s minimum guarantee fell 71.4% to $1,050 per month, from the existing contract, and Jim’s Express Shuttle’s minimum guarantee declined 4.7% to $875. The proposal from JCB showed a minimum guarantee of $396, which is a 38.9% decrease from the previous shuttle company that went out of business in December.

The board approved changing its rates for the B gate, which low-cost carrier Allegiant and United Airlines use. United also operates in the A gates.

The rate change would allow carriers to be charged based on aircraft size. A widebody would cost $157.43 per turn, which is a landing or takeoff; a narrow body, which Allegiant uses, would cost $78.72 per turn; and a regional jet, which United uses would cost $39.36. The rate change would increase Allegiant’s rate by $34.83 per turn, but decrease United’s rate by $4.53.

On Dec. 19, airport staff agreed to look at changing its rates in a meeting with American Airlines and United, Airlines 4 America and their attorneys. After the meeting, staff met with Delta and Allegiant for feedback on the change, and they accepted it. With the change, the airport’s cost per enplanement will decline to $5.90, from $7.57 in 2017. The rate change will go into effect March 1.

On Feb. 13, Allegiant announced it would establish a nonstop flight to Destin, Fla., starting June 6, as XNA’s 16th nonstop flight.

In other business, the board approved a $494,379 bid to install an electronic guidance system for the parking deck. The system will track the number of vacant spaces on the top three floors of the four-story deck, and motorists can view the vacant number of spaces on digital signs throughout the deck. Also, LED lights will be placed above each parking space, and vacant spaces will have green lights, while taken spaces will have red lights. The board also approved a $472,185 project to add 200 parking spaces to the economy lot.