Airports see benefits in additional funding from Biden plan

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 670 views 

Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill and Fort Smith Regional Airport could start sooner on infrastructure projects if they were to receive additional money from President Joe Biden’s plan to provide $25 billion to U.S. airports, officials said.

The second and third largest commercial airports in the state posted in March the first year-over-year increase in enplanements, or passengers flying out, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his American Jobs Plan, Biden looks to invest $25 billion in airports, “including funding for the Airport Improvement Program, upgrades to (Federal Aviation Administration) assets that ensure safe and efficient air travel and a new program to support terminal renovations and multimodal connections for affordable, convenient, car-free access to air travel.”

Michael Griffin, airport director for Fort Smith Regional Airport, said the airport would benefit from the additional funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) as that program supports infrastructure projects. The existing AIP project to resurface the main runway will require all its AIP entitlements for this year and 2022.

“We are in good shape regarding our terminal, and being in the middle of town makes the airport very easy to access,” Griffin said. “Additional funding for the AIP program would hopefully provide more discretionary AIP funds to the FAA, which could allow us to move on to another capital improvement in 2022 instead of 2023.”

With additional funding, the airport could start earlier on projects, such as the Taxiway Echo rehabilitation or repaving work in the general aviation area. He said the two projects with a combined estimated cost of $2.5 million are slated to start in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

XNA could move more quickly on planned projects with additional AIP funding, said Alex English, public relations and marketing specialist for the airport. Projects that would take priority include the baggage claim renovations, new air traffic control tower and west commercial apron expansion. These projects have a combined estimated cost of up to $32 million.

“How quickly we will be able to move on one or all three of the projects is dependent on the funding XNA receives,” English noted.

Enplanements at Fort Smith Regional Airport increased 18.9% to 4,187 in March, from 3,521 in the same month in 2020. Through the first quarter, enplanements declined 45.5% to 9,294, from 17,084 in the same period last year. XNA enplanements rose 1% to 34,139 in March, from 33,792 in the same month last year. Through the first quarter, enplanements declined 53.6% to 77,999, from 168,242 in the same period last year.