Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire and presented by Fort Smith-based Benefit Bank. Other supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Traffic at the Fort Smith Regional Airport is off to a rough start in 2013 following 2012 activity that resulted in three consecutive years of enplanement gains. Enplanements at the busier Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) are also off to a slow start.
Enplanement activity at Fort Smith and XNA mirrors that of American Airlines and Delta, the two primary carriers at the airports. Enplanements are a direct measure of business and tourism travel.
February enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport totaled 5,982, down 6.86% compared to February 2012. The February declined followed a 9.4% decline in January. The 2013 year-to-date 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 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.
Following is a track of the previous five years of Fort Smith enplanements. 2012: 86,653 2011: 86,234 2010: 86,129 2009: 78,432 2008: 87,030
Regular enplanement traffic at Fort Smith peaked in 1998 at 109,034.
Enplanements at XNA during February totaled 38,908, essentially flat compared to the 38,901 during February 2012. The February activity follows a January that posted a 2.8% increase in enplanements.
For the first two months of 2013, XNA enplanements total 77,675, up just 1.38% compared to the same period of 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.
Following is a track of the previous five years of XNA enplanements.
No information is available for 2013 enplanements at the Bill & Hillary Clinton Airport (Little Rock National Airport). During 2012, enplanements at the airport totaled 1.147 million for all of 2012, up 4.07% compared to 2011. The 2012 numbers ended five consecutive years of enplanement declines.
DELTA, AMERICAN AIRLINES DATA
U.S. weather conditions, including a wind and snow storm that resulted in 15 deaths and a state of emergency declared in six eastern states, hampered airline traffic during February. Thousands of flights were cancelled between Boston, New York and Atlanta. Cancellations at those key hubs negatively impact traffic throughout the rest of the U.S.
Passengers boarding all American flights in February totaled 7.901 million, down 0.8% compared to February 2012. For the first two months of 2013, total boardings for American were 16.521 million, up 1.1%.
Passengers boarding all Delta flights in February totaled 16.052 million, down 5% compared to February 2012. For the first two months of 2013, total boardings for American were 33.575 million, down 3.6%.
“Despite the impact of inclement weather, Delta completed 99.0 percent of its flights in February and ran an on-time arrival rate of 86.1 percent,” noted a Delta press release.
2013 ESTIMATES, 2012 FINANCIALS
With or without cooperative weather, the Federal Aviation Administration is predicting that U.S. enplanements will be flat in 2013 compared to 2012. The FAA says international airline traffic should increase 0.7% in 2013, with Latin American traffic being the largest growth region with a predicted 4.1% increase.
A tepid U.S. economy and cost issues for the airlines are typically cited for the lack of growth in airline travel.
According to Airlines for America, the trade association for most of the large commercial carriers, the 10 leading carriers saw expense growth of 4.7% outpace a 4.5% gain in revenue.
“The price of jet fuel reached a record-setting, year-long average of $128 per barrel, costing these carriers approximately $50 billion for the second consecutive year,” noted the Airlines for America report on 2012 industry results.
The report also noted that the 10 airlines reported a combined $152 million, or 21 cents of net profit for every passenger enplaned.
“U.S. airlines eked out another year of meager profitability as expenses grew faster than revenues with record-setting fuel prices serving as a primary driver,” A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich. “The airlines spent some $50 billion to fuel their flights despite using half a billion fewer gallons in 2012 than in 2011 and last week the price of jet fuel hit its highest level in nearly a year. Fuel remains the airlines’ single largest expense.”