Enplanements increased at the three largest commercial airports in the state in May, from April, but the number of people flying out is still down almost 90% from May 2019.
Enplanements at Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill rose to 8,725 in May, from 3,151 in April, and were down 89.8% from 85,892 in May 2019. Between January and May, enplanements have declined 47.5% to 180,118, from 342,927 over the same period in 2019.
At Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, enplanements rose to 14,854 in May, from 5,911 in April, and declined 86.3% from 108,538 in May 2019. Through May, enplanements have decreased by 50.5% to 217,456, from 439,214 over the same period in 2019.
Enplanements at Fort Smith Regional Airport increased to 1,067 in May, from 399 in April, and fell 87.5% from 8,522 in May 2019. Through May, enplanements have declined 48.5% to 18,550, from 36,001 over the same period in 2019.
In a recent board meeting, XNA CEO Aaron Burkes said the airport was starting to see a “rebound” in enplanements. Through mid-June, enplanements were down about 84%, he said. And, he expects airlines to increase their capacity over the summer.
In May, Allegiant was the airport’s No. 2 carrier behind American Airlines, he said. Historically, business travelers have accounted for the majority of passengers. Allegiant, which didn’t have any service at XNA in April, is expected to have 66 flights in July, said Kelly Johnson, chief operating officer and airport director for XNA.
“On the front end of this, we thought maybe business travel would rebound faster than leisure travel, and it’s absolutely the other way around in a really strong sort of way,” Burkes said. “Business travel has for the most part not really picked up yet. There are a few of those obviously out there, but … there’s a lot of deeply discounted fares right now. A lot of travelers are leisure travelers. That part has really exceeded our expectations.”
XNA board member Stan Green said he would expect business travel to return when employees come back to work in the office. Burkes concurred and noted this might not happen until the latter part of the year.
XNA was one of several Arkansas airports to receive money from the Federal Aviation Administration as a result of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that included $10 billion for U.S. airports. Of the $51 million dedicated for Arkansas airports, XNA received $8.21 million, and Fort Smith Regional Airport and Clinton National Airport were awarded, $11.61 million and $25.15 million, respectively.