story by Jamie Smith, special to The City Wire
Announcements of a new flight, the near opening of the airport’s first sit-down restaurant and work on the runway projects has made life busy at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
Starting July 11, passengers needing to get to the Washington, D.C. area will have a direct flight from XNA available on US Airways. The US Airways-owned subsidiary PSA Airlines will operate a direct flight from XNA to Washington DC’s downtown airport, Reagan National Airport (DCA). The flight will be on a 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet, according to a press release from US Airways.
Daily flights will leave around 4:25 p.m. from XNA and Reagan at 1:50 p.m. Flight prices will vary with the schedule and how far in advance the tickets are purchased. Ticket prices increase as flights fill up.
XNA Airport Director Kelly Johnson is excited about the approaching flight. XNA offered a direct flight to the Washington D.C. area on American Eagle for about nine months several years ago. That flight was not popular enough because of high prices for it to continue, she said.
More XNA passengers are going that direction now than before, she said.
“We had an average of 51 passengers per day last winter going into the Washington area metroplex. That’s Baltimore, Dulles Airport and Reagan,” she said.
Baltimore, Maryland is a short train ride from Washington D.C., she said, making the Reagan Airport direct flight a viable option for those travelers.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., frequently travels between Washington D.C. and the Northwest Arkansas area. He was pleased at the recent announcement and what it means for area travelers and local businesses.
"Providing more destinations for direct flights out of XNA is a great opportunity for customers and businesses,” he said. “The addition of this route makes travel to our nation's capital more efficient. I have enjoyed direct flights from XNA to Washington in the past and I am hopeful I will be able to take advantage of this opportunity in the future."
The new flight will join more than a dozen other direct flights from XNA. Johnson said the new flight would put XNA at offering 16 direct flights.
“We also have Phoenix (on Allegiant Air) but it comes and goes. We will be meeting with them in May to decide if it’s going to go away,” she said.
XNA officials are also eagerly awaiting this month’s opening of the Smokewood American Grill, the airport’s first sit-down, fine-dining restaurant.
“This is something we’ve never had before because of space,” Johnson said.
The restaurant will feature entrees such as fish and steak. It is scheduled to open the third week of April. The grill is a new venture for the popular airport retailer, The Paradies Shops. The company is an award-winning retailer that decided to expand its business and expertise into the world of airport dining, Johnson said.
April 26 will be another big day for XNA as that’s when bids will be opened for the runway repairs. Bids are required before the airport can seek a Federal Aviation Administration grant.
“We have to wait until we have the bids in hand because the grant application has to be based on bids,” Johnson said.
XNA is eligible for a total of three, $10 million grants. The first grant was already received and was used to create a new runway. The next two will also be used for paving and other capital improvement projects.
XNA officials are hopeful that bids will come in at an affordable rate.
“We got great bids on our (other) paving and on the concourse,” Johnson said. “Memphis (airport) had a bid come in 17 percent less than estimates.”
If the grant is received, work on the runway is expected to start this summer.