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XNA outlines 20 years of expansion projects needed to meet passenger demand

by Ron Wood | June 5, 2021 at 7:26 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The terminal and front entrance is visible Friday, June 22, 2018, at the Northwest Arkansas Regioinal Airport in Highfill.

HIGHFILL -- Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport officials approved Wednesday an updated version of 20 projects over the next 20 years to keep up with the airport's increasing passenger traffic.

The projects range from new and expanded concourses to more parking garages to a hotel on the property. Timing of the projects will be triggered by passenger levels. Estimated cost of the work, allowing for inflation, is about $620 million.

"Again, I want to caution everybody that we need to review and analyze the operations at the airport and the enplanements we have at least on an annual basis to see where we are in the overall terminal plan in case we need to re-arrange projects, change priorities, things of that nature," said Ryk Dunkelberg with Meade & Hunt, the airport's planners.

Hight-Jackson Associates, architects; Garver engineers; and Nabholz, a construction company, were also part of the planning process.

Airport officials are expecting about 500,000 passengers this year, up from earlier predictions of about 350,000. The first targeted number for starting projects is 900,000 passengers, which is about where Northwest was in 2019 before the pandemic decimated air travel. Recent Federal Aviation Administration forecasts are slightly higher than the in-house version.

"We're down still about 36%, right now, from 2019 numbers. 2019 is our benchmark year, so we're still trying to climb out of that hole that we were in, but doing it rapidly," said Aaron Burkes, airport CEO.

The targeted numbers for the next projects are 1.1 million, 1.3 million, 1.5 million and 1.7 million passengers.

Planners also look at the airport's peak hours as part of the process, which can be affected by added flights or new airlines.

The terminal will be about 200,000 square feet when the skybridge project, a covered connection between the parking garage and second floor of the terminal, is completed in a couple of years.

The terminal is expected to be closer to 450,000 square feet by the time 1.7 million people are using the airport. Inside the terminal, the number of gates will increase, as will the number of security screening checkpoints and baggage carousels.

Each project has a visual and written description of what it is and a time frame.

The plan will also be important when airport officials go to the FAA in the future for more money.

"The FAA is going to want to see the need for these projects, and that's what this planning document is going to show them," said Ryan Hayes, with Meade & Hunt.

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On the road

Northwest Arkansas National Airport officials have a better idea of the schedule for a new airport access road.

Mike Johnson, who represents Fayetteville on the airport board and chairs the Access Road Task Force, said design is about 30% complete and he expects the Arkansas Department of Transportation to have another public hearing in late summer, when the design is 60% complete. Environmental impact work should be wrapped up by the end of the year. The road should be ready to use about five years after that, including 36 months for construction. Johnson said he hopes a little pushing will improve on that five-year timeline.

Source: Northwest Arkansas National Airport


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