Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill recently updated its 2021 enplanement projections to between 500,000 and 550,000.
Enplanements, or outbound passengers, are projected to be 553,281 in 2021. In a recent board meeting, XNA officials discussed the new numbers after projecting in December that enplanements would be 350,000 for 2021. In 2020, enplanements fell almost 61% to 360,133, from a high of 922,533 in 2019. Between January and April, enplanements declined 30.4% from the same period in 2020. However, enplanements rose 1,209% to 41,261 in April, from the same month in 2020.
“Every day seems to continue with some positive news,” said Tim O’Donnell, chief financial officer. “With our additional enplanements, we get additional airline revenue, additional car rental revenue, additional parking … We think that additional amount will get us another $2.5 million, which is fantastic.”
CEO Aaron Burkes said passenger traffic is down about 35% from 2019 levels. Business travel is at about 30% of 2019 levels, but business travelers are returning, he said.
“We’re hoping that we have this strong summer surge of leisure travelers,” Burkes said. “We’re hoping that the decline in leisure, which normally happens [at the] end of summer, gets picked up by business travelers then. If that happens, we could conceivably finish out stronger than our 550,000 enplanement forecast.”
Burkes also said he expects XNA to retain its new leisure travelers.
“We believe that we’re converting drivers to fliers now,” he added. “These are people that were not even flying before. They might have occasionally flown on Allegiant. Now, in many cases, you can fly cheaper than you can drive with the cost of fuel. I think they’re here to stay.”
XNA is expected to return to 2019 enplanement levels in 2023, according to consultant Mead & Hunt.
The airport recently added five nonstop flights served by two low-cost carriers, including three from XNA’s sixth carrier, Breeze Airways. By this fall, XNA is expected to provide flights to 24 unique destinations, up from 14 in 2019.