The two commercial airports serving Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith areas got off to a mixed start in 2013.
Enplanements at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) during January totaled 38,767, up 2.8% compared to January 2012. Enplanements at XNA totaled 565,045 during 2012, up just 0.4% compared to 2011. Although slight, the gain prevented XNA from posting two-consecutive years of enplanement declines.
Enplanements at XNA totaled 562,747 during 2011, down 1.38% compared to 2010. During 2010, XNA had 570,625 enplanements, up 5.49% over 2009. XNA’s first full year of traffic was 1999, and the airport posted eight consecutive years of enplanement gains before seeing a decline in 2008. It reached a peak of 598,886 in 2007.
Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport totaled 5,958, down 9.49% compared to January 2012.
Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport totaled 86,653 during 2012, just ahead of the 86,234 in 2011, and marking three consecutive years of enplanement gains.
Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport during 2011 eked out a 0.12% gain over 2010, marking two consecutive years of enplanement growth at the airport. For the year, the airport posted 86,234 enplanements compared to 86,129 during 2010.
The January figures at Fort Smith continue a downward trend from the fourth quarter of 2012. Enplanements were down almost 6% during the 2012 fourth quarter compared to the 2011 period.
Enplanements at the Bill & Hillary Clinton Airport (Little Rock National Airport), totaled 1.147 million for all of 2012, up 4.07% compared to 2011. (The airport did not have January numbers as of Feb. 18.)
December 2012 enplanements totaled 87,808, down 3.86% compared to December 2011.
The 2012 numbers ended five consecutive years of enplanement declines.
Enplanements at Little Rock National during 2011 totaled 1.103 million, down 1.92% compared to the 2010 period.
It may prove tough for Arkansas’ commercial airports to maintain the 2012 pace.
The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting company, predicts that in 2013 the reduction in the number of seats in the commercial aviation system will result in an overall 2% to 2.5% decline in passenger traffic.
An announced merger between American Airlines and US Airways also creates uncertainty. With American being the largest carrier at XNA, Fort Smith and Little Rock, talk of fewer routes and reduced reliance on smaller airports to feed the major hubs is a concern. The Boyd Group says seeking new routes will be difficult.
“The economics of air service have changed. With the impending merger of American and US Airways, there will be just nine major scheduled airlines, and all have specific route strategies. The options and potential for new service recruitment are shrinking fast. Consultant studies to ‘find the right airline’ will be right up there with ginning up a purchase contract on the Brooklyn Bridge,” noted the Boyd Group report.