Fort Smith Regional Airport enplanements dip in 2023

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 565 views 

Traffic at the Fort Smith Regional Airport fell off the pace of post-COVID-19 recovery with total 2023 enplanements down 1.7% compared with 2022 numbers. Fort Smith enplanements are also off compared with Arkansas’ two largest commercial airports.

Enplanements at Fort Smith totaled 60,669 in 2023, down 1.7% compared with the 61,719 in 2022. Enplanements in the last two months of the year totaled 9,417, just under the 9,431 in the same period of 2022.

Fort Smith Regional Airport Director Michael Griffin said one reason for the traffic dip is that American Airlines changed to a larger plane with more seats to service Fort Smith and, at the same time, reduced the number of daily flights from three to four.

“We didn’t really lose seat numbers, but we did lose [flight] frequency. We’re hoping to see the demand to get that fourth flight back. That’s where the biggest decline has been, is having the three flights instead of four,” Griffin said.

He said American wants the “load factor” to be around 80% per flight before considering adding new flights, and the load factor at Fort Smith is now just slightly under 80%.

“So the demand is there, but we’re just trying to get that little bit extra,” he said, adding that a consistent load factor above 80% will also help the airport recruit new carriers to new routes.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines stopped its Fort Smith flights in July 2020 and has yet to restart the direct service to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The airport, in August 2022, was selected to receive a $1.145 million grant from the Small Community Air Service Development Program of the Federal Aviation Administration to recruit a route to Chicago or another northeastern market. The grant is good for 10 years. The airport has contracted with Middleton, Wisc.-based Mead & Hunt to add flights and new markets.

The Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) and the Clinton National Airport in Little Rock have numbers only through October as of Jan. 16. Between January and October at XNA, enplanements totaled 826,857, up 18.8% from 696,145 in the same period of 2022. Between January and October at Clinton National, enplanements rose by 11.2% to 929,171 from 835,392.

Fort Smith 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.
2023: 60,669
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