The Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill continues to see an increase in enplanements as it works to add more aircraft parking.
Through the first half of the year, enplanements, or passengers flying out, have risen by 17% to 230,350, from 196,767 in the same period in 2020. In June, enplanements rose 249% to 58,050, from 16,635 in the same month in 2020.
With the addition of low-cost carrier Breeze Airways this summer, the airport is running out of room for aircraft. XNA has 15 existing gates, and at peak periods, have reached capacity. As a result, XNA plans to expand its apron to accommodate larger aircraft and allow for use of an unused gate.
In a recent special-called meeting, the XNA board of directors approved contract negotiations with Garver for design work totaling $295,760. Construction is expected to cost $3.47 million. Board members are set to meet again in September.
Another project in the works is to add an air traffic control tower to replace the control room that was built in 1998. XNA board members approved a $171,009 contract with AJT Engineering for a site study. XNA officials noted the $10 million project to build the tower might be ready for construction in one year.
Also in the meeting, CEO Aaron Burkes highlighted the rise in enplanements along with increased flight frequency and additional destinations. Burkes expects enplanements to moderate after the summer as leisure travel decreases. Compared to 2019, enplanements this year are projected to fall 40% to about 550,000.
“Bottom line the industry is rebounding, but there are still some headwinds,” said Burkes, expressing concern about the Delta variant of COVID-19. “It’s caused some businesses … delaying the return to their corporate offices. It’s pushed some business travel back also.”
Arkansans who fly to Chicago must have a COVID test within 72 hours of the flight confirming they don’t have the virus, quarantine or show proof of vaccination, Burkes said. On Aug. 9, flights to Canada are expected to resume, and he expects this to help XNA, especially with business travelers. He also noted high ticket, hotel and rental car costs have yet to slow leisure travel.