HIGHFILL -- Northwest Arkansas National Airport is outperforming its peers as flyers trickle back and average fares are cheaper, officials said this week.
The airport is down almost 70% for July 1-19 compared to the same period last year, according to the federal Transportation Security Administration data. Those numbers represent the number of people passing through the security checkpoint and include flight crew members.
In the same time period last year, the airport had 56,606 pass through the security checkpoint; this year there were 17,184.
Nationally, air traffic is down 73% for the same period, according to the agency.
Traffic was down 96% from last year at XNA in April; in May, it was down 89.8%. June saw that number at 81.7%. Those enplanements basically mirrored national numbers.
"We are pleased to see the number of passengers rebounding," said Aaron Burkes, chief executive officer at XNA. "Much of the activity we are observing is leisure travelers taking advantage of deeply discounted airfares. Very low fares is certainly one of the few bright spots for consumers right now," he said.
The airport's average domestic fare fell 14.3% from $252 in the first quarter of 2019 to $216 in the first quarter of 2020, according to Mike Lum, with Volaire Aviation Consulting. The average fare declined for all airlines serving XNA, not just lower cost carriers like Frontier and Allegiant.
Lum said he was expecting first quarter 2020 data would look bad, but XNA had strong months in January and February relative to the peer airports before everything went south with the covid-19 pandemic being declared in March. The peer group Lum tracks includes Little Rock; Tulsa, Okla.; Springfield, Mo.; Lexington, Ky.; Des Moines, Iowa; Wichita, Kan.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Dayton, Ohio; Madison, Wis.; Greensboro, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Greenville, S.C.
"While traffic declined at all airports, XNA's decline was more favorable than all airports," Lum said. "XNA also had the largest decline in the average domestic fare and the average domestic plus international fare."
The airport is a business destination for those traveling to the headquarters of Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt and Walmart and its vendors. Airlines can charge more and business travelers will pay more because they have to travel to Northwest Arkansas. Airport officials say businesses travelers have historically accounted for roughly 60% of traffic through the airport.
XNA went from 329 flights in the last week of February to 19 a few weeks later, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. The airport averaged 302 flights a week in 2019.
It hit a low of 10 flights a day in April. This month the average was about 20.
Passengers for 2019 were up 17%, to 922,533, which far exceeded expectations and projections. The airport had 788,261 passengers in 2018. Those numbers were reported by the airlines and did not include flight crews.
The number of arriving and departing passengers combined was 1,846,374 in 2019, compared with 1,574,610 in 2018, according to airport officials.
Ron Wood can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWARDW.