Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill is expected to come short of 1 million enplanements this year. Meanwhile, officials look to take advantage of a new state law allowing the airport to detach from the city.
In a Tuesday (Sept. 19) XNA Board of Directors meeting, CEO Aaron Burkes projected 2023 enplanements to be between 975,000 and 980,000 if the U.S. economy does not go into recession. The projected enplanements, or passengers flying out, would exceed the 2019 record of 922,533 enplanements.
So far this year, enplanements are up 8% from the same period in 2019. Between January and August, enplanements are 651,918 compared to 605,036 in the same period in 2019.
“It looks like we’re going to be just shy of that million mark that we’ve all wanted to get to, especially in our 25th anniversary,” Burkes said. “All indications are that this month is going to be strong again.”
By comparison, enplanements at Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, the state’s largest commercial airport, were 730,491 from January to August, down from 747,049 in the same period in 2019. Enplanements at Fort Smith Regional Airport, the state’s third-largest commercial airport, were 39,789 from January to August, down from 61,713 in the same period in 2019.
Also Tuesday, XNA board members voted 12-0 to detach from Highfill. Board members Phil Phillips and Philip Taldo were absent. The move comes after a new state law allows XNA to detach without being annexed into another city.
XNA officials previously said the law provided the airport with leverage to negotiate how the city’s sales tax revenue is allocated. About $600,000 of the annual revenue was attributed to transactions that take place at XNA.
However, XNA officials said after meetings with Highfill officials, no agreement was reached. The airport has been in Highfill since it opened in November 1998. The resolution that XNA board members approved shows staff is directed to file a petition in Benton County Court to detach from Highfill.
“We really tried to reach out and work with the city of Highfill on this and give every opportunity to go ahead and create this agreement and try to be good neighbors,” said Jim Krall, chairman of the XNA Board of Directors.