Fort Smith Regional Airport enplanements were down 59.6% in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that largely shut down business and tourism travel around the world. The decline hit as the airport was enjoying four consecutive years of growth in travel numbers.
Enplanements during the year totaled 38,660, down 59.6% from 95,670 in 2019. Annual enplanements at the airport with American Airlines totaled 69,096, down 52.3% compared with 2019. Annual enplanements with Delta totaled 5,740, down 76.4% compared with 2019. Delta in September pulled its service between Fort Smith and Atlanta.
December enplanements at the airport totaled 3,292, down 60.2% from the 8,277 in December 2019.
Travel decline out of Fort Smith is trending lower than the national decline. For the first nine months of the year, the most recent federal data available, domestic enplanements total 25.251 million, down 65.2% compared with the 72.59 million during the same period of 2019. Airlines for America, the trade organization representing most of the U.S. domestic carriers, reported that airlines are operating with 19% fewer planes because of the pandemic. The group also predicts it will be 2023-2024 before airlines begin to again see pre-pandemic travel numbers.
Fort Smith Regional Airport Director Michael Griffin told Talk Business & Politics he is hopeful broad distribution of vaccines later in the year will result in more travel. He also said the airport is working with a consulting firm to either recruit Delta back to Fort Smith or find another carrier. Griffin is also hopeful people will be eager to travel once the virus is better contained.
“Business travelers have always been our core market. As we’ve seen in the recent announcements of new and expanding business, it is my hope that our local economy will recover sooner than later. Additionally, I stand by the thought that everyone will be ready for a trip once it’s safe to do so,” Griffin said.
He also said the airport was able to retain all 15 employees because the airport received $11.6 million in CARES Act funding earlier this year. 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.
Enplanements are also down at Arkansas’ other commercial fields. 2020 enplanements out of the Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) totaled 360,133, down 60.9% compared with 2019. Enplanements for the first 11 months out of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport – the most recent data available – totaled 446,578, down 56.7% compared with the same period in 2019.
Enplanements at the airport in 2019 were up for the fourth straight year. Following are the previous seven years of enplanement totals.