Mar 20, 2023 - News

XNA topped pre-COVID passenger levels in January

Illustration of an airport check-in sign with a happy face

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Northwest Arkansas National Airport is seeing more passengers than it was before COVID stalled travel.

By the numbers: XNA had about 62,300 enplanements β€” tickets purchased to fly out β€” in January, up from about 48,700 in January 2022 and surpassing the roughly 56,600 in January 2019, XNA spokesperson Alex English told Axios.

  • The trend is similar for February.

What they're saying: "It's still hard to say if we will surpass pre-COVID 2019 numbers just because there are a multitude of things that can happen between now and the end of the year, but so far we're very pleased with our increase for January and February," English said.

  • The airport is seeing an uptick in spring break travel this month, she added.

Flashback: Holiday travel came close to 2019 levels.

What's happening: XNA began a $34 million project last week to modernize its terminal.

  • The work will include updating baggage claim, adding additional escalators and elevators and renovating the lobby and ticket counters. It should take about two years and four months, during which the airport will never shut down, English said.
  • The airport is also still in the process of replacing an air traffic control tower and wrapping up a taxiway renovation.

The intrigue: XNA officials have worked for several years to rebrand the airport, add more nonstop flights and include some local color, like artwork and food, to the first place many people see on their visit to NWA.

  • To that end, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art plans to install a gallery with tentative plans to open later this year, Amanda Horn, spokesperson for the Bentonville museum, told Axios. The gallery will have works from the permanent collection, which will be rotated a few times a year.
  • Horn said the goal is for people traveling to NWA to have an experience when they first land that is the calling card of what they'll see in the region β€” a vibrant, cultural destination.
  • Fayetteville-based Slim Chickens also plans to open a location inside, English said. The timeline is TBD.

The bottom line: Don't expect XNA to stop growing any time soonβ€” like, for decades.

  • Last year, its board of directors snapped up acres of land for expansion projects, including a potential new runway that's expected 20 years down the road.
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