First quarter passenger traffic rises at the Fort Smith Regional Airport

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 779 views 

Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport are up more than 3% in the first quarter of 2023 after finishing 2022 with a 30.5% enplanement increase over 2021 in which COVID-19 was still limiting air travel.

Enplanements at the airport in the first three months of 2023 totals 12,593, up 3.3% compared with the same period in 2022. March enplanements were 4,434, down 21.1% compared with 5,621 in March 2022.

Airport Director Michael Griffin said part of the reason for the March decline is that American Airlines, the only carrier active at Fort Smith, decreased departures a couple days a week from 3 to 2. He said American is expected to return to 3 flights a day by the summer.

Griffin also construction on a $22 million runway extension that began in April 2022 should be complete in June. The 1,300-foot extension is needed to support the foreign military pilot training center to be located at Ebbing Air National Guard Base at the airport. The base was selected to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by countries participating in the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The city of Fort Smith committed $5 million toward the extension and Arkansas contributed $17 million.

The airport reported 61,719 enplanements in 2022, up 30.5% compared with the 47,287 in 2021. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that U.S. enplanements totaled 853 million in 2022, up 30% compared with 2021, and well above the 388 million in 2020.

U.S. airlines carried 194 million more passengers in 2022 than in 2021, up 30% year-to-year. For the full year 2022, January through December, U.S. airlines carried 853 million passengers (unadjusted), up from 658 million in 2021 and 388 million in 2020.

Enplanements were on a growth trend prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time enplanements topped 100,000 was in 2005 with 102,607. The enplanement record is 112,782 set in 1975. Following are the previous 10 years of enplanement totals.
2022: 61,719
2021: 47,287
2020: 38,660
2019: 95,670
2018: 90,501
2017: 89,582
2016: 87,488
2015: 86,704
2014: 92,869