Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire. Supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Air travel is on the rebound in Northwest Arkansas and in the Fort Smith area, with both regional airports posting year-to-date gains above 6%. More passengers is not the case in Little Rock where year-to-date enplanements are down almost 7%.
The January-May gains at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) and the Fort Smith Regional Airport include the period of severe winter weather that cancelled thousands of flights nationally.
Travelers flying out of XNA during May totaled 58,410, up 6.94% compared to the 54,620 during May 2013. For the first five months of 2014, enplanements at XNA total 243,939, up 6.85% compared to the same period in 2013. The early 2014 traffic is up 4.39% compared to the same period in 2007, the year that XNA reached record enplanements of 598,886.
For all of 2013, XNA enplanements totaled 579,679, up 2.58% compared to the same period in 2012. The enplanement growth remained stable through the year, with enplanements up 2.42% at the end of the first quarter of 2013.
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. 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.
FORT SMITH TRAFFIC
The Fort Smith Regional Airport, served by flights from Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, posted May enplanements of 8,371, up 4.95% compared to May 2013.
Enplanements for the first five months of 2014 total 36,337, up 6.35% compared to the same period in 2013.
For all of 2013, enplanements at the airport totaled 84,520, down 2.46% compared to the same period in 2012. The decline ended three consecutive years of enplanement gains at the airport.
With 20,998 enplanements for the first five months of 2014, American Airlines accounts for 57.7% of commercial traffic out of Fort Smith. Delta Air Lines had the remaining market share for the first five months of 2014.
American enplanements out of Fort Smith are up 5.06% for the first five months of 2014 compared to the same period of 2013, and Delta enplanements are up 8.17%.
John Parker, executive director of the Fort Smith Regional Airport, said he does not get analysis on if passengers are flying for business or leisure, but said he believes business conditions are improving.
“We’ve had some positive business activity in the region lately,” Parker said, adding that consumer confidence is rising nationwide.
Indeed, The Conference Board reported Tuesday (June 24) that its index of consumer confidence reached a high not seen since January 2008.
“Expectations regarding the short-term outlook for the economy and jobs were moderately more favorable, while income expectations were a bit mixed. Still, the momentum going forward remains quite positive,” noted Lyn Franco, director of economic indicators for The Conference Board.
LITTLE ROCK NUMBERS
Enplanements at the Bill & Hillary Clinton Airport (Little Rock National Airport) were 99,982 in May, down 4.4% compared to May 2013. Enplanements for the first five months of 2014 were 415,892, down 6.75% compared to the same period of 2013.
Enplanements in 2013 totaled 1.085 million, down 5.45% compared to 2012. Enplanements in 2012 totaled 1.147 million, up 4.07% compared to 2011. The 2012 numbers ended five consecutive years of enplanement declines at Arkansas’ largest commercial field.
Among the top three carriers in Little Rock, only one has posted enplanement gains between January and May. Southwest, the largest carrier, has seen enplanements decline 17.84% in the first five months. Delta, the second largest, has posted at 1.5% decline in the period, while American Airlines has a 0.86% gain in enplanements during the first five months of 2014.
FUTURE TRAVEL PLANS
Gains at XNA and Fort Smith could continue if estimates by Airlines for America (formerly the Air Transport Association) prove true. The group predicts that summer 2014 air travel will hit a six-year high as 210 million passengers – 2.28 million a day – fly on U.S. carriers between June 1 and Aug. 31.
International travel is expected to reach an all-time high with published airline schedules showing Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, respectively, as the top five nonstop destinations from the United States.
“It’s a great time to fly, as air travel remains one of the best consumer bargains in America, given its superior speed and affordability,” John Heimlich, A4A vice president and chief economist, said in a statement. “U.S. airlines are well prepared to accommodate the increased travel demand in the summer months by adding seats and continuing to make customer-focused investments in their product.”