FORT SMITH, Ark. — If you are to travel to and from Fort Smith by air, the only option is to fly on American Airlines through the Dallas-Fort Worth hub. A possible grant could change that for passengers in the River Valley.
The Fort Smith Regional Airport applied for the Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant. Which, if awarded, would give the airport $1 million to use towards expansion.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fort Smith Regional Airport has witnessed a 42% decrease in flights. During this time, Delta Airlines withdrew from Fort Smith, contributing to the sharp decline and only leaving passengers the option to fly on American Airlines.
The City of Fort Smith recently voted unanimously to endorse the airport’s application and will provide up to $100,000 if the airport is awarded the grant by way of the local match.
“In order to remain competitive, in order to provide the amenities people like and have come to expect, having additional flights to other parts of the country, specifically to the eastern part of the United States, will only benefit Fort Smith,” says Carl E. Geffken, City Administrator for the City of Fort Smith.
The city hopes that the grant could translate into more flight options to Fort Smith.
“Every business, every person needs options,” said Geffken. “They don’t necessarily just to fly to one hub, in this case, Dallas-Fort Worth, and although you can get anywhere in the world from DFW, it’s always better to have more options."
With only one option for passengers, it has caused travel headaches for passengers in the past.
“There have been times, again, with American (Airlines), unfortunately, where if Dallas is unavailable, you’re diverted to Atlanta…North Carolina, so you’re passing Oklahoma…Arkansas and you’re going way out of the way, so again, it’s frustrating,” said Marshall Harvey a passenger at Fort Smith.
In comparison, having more options has proved to be beneficial for other airports in the area, like XNA. This past February, the airport saw nearly 100,000 passengers come through the airport, an increase of 122% compared to February of 2021.
XNA public affairs manager, Alex English says the increase isn’t unique to XNA and airports as a whole must keep up with demand and regional growth to attract more airlines or provide more options for travelers.
“It’s so important because the more we can grow and the more our region does grow, we need to keep up,” said English. “We need to make sure we have the capacity as far as aircrafts as, you know, airlines and non-stops to grow with our region and keep up,” English continued.
While the process is in the early stages, with the backing of the City of Fort Smith and seeing how expansion has helped other airports in the region grow, the Fort Smith Regional Airport could find itself with a $1 million grant to grow. Down the line, some long-term plans also include runway extension which would allow larger passenger and freight aircrafts the ability to land in Fort Smith. This possibility would help boost the economy with more tourism, travel, and supplying manufacturers who call Fort Smith home.
The Fort Smith Regional Airport declined to comment at this time on the story due to the early stage in the grant process.
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