Travel out of the Fort Smith Regional Airport continues to be well below 2019 numbers thanks to COVID-19, but Michael Griffin said business travel is “returning slowly” and American Airlines is again flying the larger regional jets in and out of the airport.
Griffin, airport director, said the return of American’s larger CRJ-700 regional jets is a good sign for the airport and prospects for more activity in the coming months.
“That is encouraging because the capacity is coming back. The flights are the same, but now they’ve made space for more people,” Griffin said, adding that American has also returned to its business day schedule that includes an early morning departure and late evening arrival.
August enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport totaled 2,605, down 67% compared with August 2019. All of the flights – three a day – were American Airlines. Delta suspended flights in July but has said its Fort Smith service may return after Sept. 30.
During the first eight months of the year, enplanements totaled 25,734, down 58.3% from the same period in 2019. Year-to-date American Airline enplanements out of Fort Smith total 19,994, down from the 43,943 in the same period of 2019. Delta enplanements for the first eight months are 5,740, down from the 17,770 in the same period of 2019.
Griffin said the airport received $11.6 million in CARES Act funding that can be used for most operational expenses. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was approved by Congress earlier this year to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic.
“That is going to help us pay the bills for the next several years, but hopefully the air business will return in a few years,” Griffin said.
Enplanements are also down at Arkansas’ other commercial fields. Enplanements for the first seven months out of the Northwest Arkansas National Airport – the most recent data available – fell 57.7% compared with the same period in 2019. Enplanements for the first seven months out of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport – the most recent data available – in Little Rock declined 56.9%.
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. December enplanements totaled 8,277, up 4.17% from the 7,945 in December 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.