Fort Smith Regional Airport Director Michael Griffin is not surprised with the significant downturn in enplanements, and he is hopeful the need to get back to business will soon result in a “very slow” return to something that may look like normal.
Enplanements out of Fort Smith totaled just 399 in April, down 94.5% from April 2019. Enplanements for the first four months of the year totaled 17,483, down 36.4% from the same period in 2019. Before the COVID-19 crisis began, the airport was on track for a fifth-year of enplanement growth. Prior to March, enplanements totaled 13,563 in January and February, up 7.4% compared to the same period in 2019.
Enplanements comprise the passengers who fly out of the airport.
The airport has two airlines – American and Delta – that provide connections to Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, respectively. In April, 70.6% of the traffic was with American, and for the first three months of the year, American had 71.8% of all flights.
Griffin told Talk Business & Politics he believes a move by American Airlines could improve traffic counts at the airport.
“A slow, very slow increase,” Griffin said when asked to project how traffic might return. “American has just this week started having their 7 a.m. departure and then I believe a 5 or 5:30 [p.m.] arrival. So hopefully that’s kind of helping people get back to work a little bit.”
Airlines for America, the lobbying group for most U.S. airlines, noted that as of May 5 traffic was down 94%. The group reported average people per flight was 23, well below the 85-100 prior to COVID-19. As of May 10, there were 3,162 planes idled, more than half the number of planes operated by U.S. airlines, noted the lobbying group.
Griffin is hopeful that with around 85% of travel out of Fort Smith being for business, the gradual reopening of state economies will improve numbers.
“The only constant that I’m hearing is, in the airport industry, you can’t help but think that people have to get back to work. And since a majority of our passengers are business travelers … there is probably a good portion of work to be done,” he said.
2019 enplanements out of the Fort Smith Regional Airport – Arkansas’ third largest commercial field – totaled 95,670, up 5.7% from the 90,501 in 2018. American traffic is responsible for all the gains at Fort Smith in 2019. The airline had 69,096 enplanements out of Fort Smith in 2019, up 10.1% compared with the airline’s 2018 traffic. Delta posted 26,574 enplanements, down from 27,763 in 2018.
Enplanements at the airport in 2019 were up for the fourth straight year. Following are the previous six years of enplanement totals.