XNA’s 2023 enplanements exceed pre-pandemic high

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,230 views 

Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill saw record enplanements of 991,489 in 2023, exceeding the previous high of 922,533 in 2019.

Enplanements, or passengers flying out, were up by 7.5% from 2019. Compared to 2022, enplanements rose by 18.6% from 836,195.

In a December XNA Board of Directors meeting, CEO Aaron Burkes had projected that enplanements would be between 980,000 and 983,000 in 2023. XNA has projected 925,000 enplanements in 2024. Burkes said this might be a conservative estimate if the economy makes a soft landing. But if the economy worsens, the numbers might be lower.

“What we’ve seen historically is when the economy goes down, enplanements go down,” Burkes said in December. “Look back at 2006 to 2013; we had basically flat enplanements for that many years…Enplanements are very dependent on the economy.”

XNA is the second-largest commercial airport in the state, and Fort Smith Regional Airport is the third-largest. Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock is the state’s largest.

LIT’s enplanements rose by 10.9% to 1.12 million in 2023 from 1.01 million in 2022, still lower than pre-pandemic levels. Last year, enplanements were down by less than 1% or 4,402 passengers from 2019. According to the Federal Aviation Administration website, which shows enplanement data dating back to 1999, LIT reached its highest annual enplanements over the past 25 years in 1999, when they exceeded 1.29 million.

At Fort Smith Regional Airport, enplanements fell by 1.7% to 60,669 in 2023 from 61,719 in 2022. Enplanements in 2023 were up from 47,287 in 2021 and 38,660 in 2020 but down from 95,670 in 2019. The last time annual enplanements exceeded 100,000 was in 2005 when enplanements were 102,607. According to airport documents, its enplanement record of 112,782 was set in 1975.