Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill is expected to have more than 600,000 enplanements in 2021 as projections for the year continue to improve.
CEO Aaron Burkes discussed Wednesday (Dec. 15) the updated projections for enplanements, or passengers flying out, in a meeting of the XNA board of directors.
In November, enplanements rose by 137.2% to 68,312, from 28,801 in the same month in 2020. Enplanements were 76,199 in November 2019. Between January and November, enplanements have increased by 66.5% to 555,406, from 333,558 in the same period in 2020.
In October, enplanements rose to the highest level in any month since 2019. Compared to the same month in 2020, enplanements rose by 131.2% to 73,369, the first time enplanements exceed 70,000 since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enplanements were 86,554 in October 2019.
Burkes said the biggest unknowns for the enplanement outlook regards the pandemic and the new omicron variant.
“We’re narrowing the gap,” he said. “We’re getting back closer to the 2019 numbers.”
In 2019, enplanements rose by 17% to 922,533, from 2018. Enplanements fell by 61% to 360,133 in 2020. Compared to 2019, XNA is projected to be down about 33%, or have about 620,000 enplanements, in 2021.
XNA estimated enplanements to be 750,000 in 2022 and 875,000 in 2023.
Burkes explained that once business travel recovers, he said XNA could return to pre-pandemic levels of enplanements more quickly than other airports because of how it’s pivoted to leisure travel. He added that he doesn’t think XNA will lose these leisure travelers, who might’ve previously driven to other area airports for travel.
Between January and November, enplanements at Fort Smith Regional Airport were 42,718, which has already exceeded the 2020 total of 38,660. Between January and October, enplanements at Clinton National Airport in Little Rock have risen by 69.7% to 685,840, from 404,169 in the same period in 2020.
In other business, XNA board members approved Burkes’ salary to increase by 7% to $249,407, from $232,898, as recommended by consulting company Johanson Group.