Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA)
Northwest Arkansas National Airport, or XNA after its International Air Transportation Association (IATA) code, is located in Highfill (Benton County) and is roughly equidistant from Bentonville (Benton County), Fayetteville (Washington County), Rogers (Benton County), Siloam Springs (Benton County), and Springdale (Washington County). It is a mixed-use airport with both commercial and private airplanes. It has the second-largest amount of scheduled commercial service in the state of Arkansas.
Local business leaders including Sam Walton, founder of Walmart Inc., and several local and state elected officials joined together to push for a new airport. Due to the rapid growth in population and business (especially the continued expansion of Walmart Inc.), Drake Field, located outside of Fayetteville, was deemed no longer adequate for the needs of the northwestern Arkansas area. In 1990, the Northwest Arkansas Council, a private, non-profit organization, was formed with Alice L. Walton as its first chairperson. The major goal of the organization was to see a new airport constructed. In an effort to gain the political support necessary for the new airport, the Northwest Arkansas Council began a public information campaign that concluded in 1992 with a regional vote that found an overwhelming majority of the people in favor of a new airport. A federal grant was awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1994 to purchase the land. Ground was broken and construction began in August 1995. It took just over three years to complete the new airport.
President William J. Clinton dedicated the new airport, then named Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, on November 6, 1998, with a crowd of 8,000 people attending the event. The dedication was the culmination of eight years of work to get the airport approved and then constructed. When it opened, the airport was only the third new commercial airport to be built in the United States during the previous twenty-five years; Dallas/Fort Worth International and Denver International were the other two.
When the airport opened in 1998, American Eagle inaugurated non-stop flights to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on regional jets to augment the preexisting service from Drake Field to Dallas/Fort Worth International. In 1999, several airlines moved into XNA. TransWorld Express began flights to St. Louis, Missouri, in January. In March, Atlantic Southeast Airlines (a Delta Connection partner) started service to Atlanta, Georgia, and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Northwest Airlines began service to Memphis, Tennessee. US Airways, the last airline operating at Drake Field, moved to XNA in September 1999. Delta later eliminated its flight to Dallas-Fort Worth when it closed its hub at that airport.
XNA has one runway made of concrete, numerated runway 16/34. It measures 8,800 feet by 150 feet. Prior to the economic downturn of 2008, plans were announced for an expansion of the airport. A $20–25 million price tag was placed on the project, which included a new concourse stretching eastward from the existing one. A ticket counter expansion was completed in 2007.
From September 1, 2006, to August 30, 2007, the airport averaged about 150 flights a day with forty-six percent air taxi, twenty-six percent military, fifteen percent general aviation, and thirteen percent scheduled commercial flights. In 2019, the airport changed its name to Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
XNA has non-stop flights to more than a dozen cities and has more than seventy-five flights per day. Many of the major business centers in the country were served by non-stop flights. Destinations included Dallas (Dallas/Fort Worth); Chicago (O’Hare); Houston, Texas (Bush Intercontinental); Atlanta; Detroit, Michigan; Memphis; Charlotte, North Carolina; Baltimore, Maryland; Denver; Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; and New York (LaGuardia). In October 2015, United Airlines began a non-stop flight from XNA to San Francisco, California. Much of the traffic at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is influenced by the nearby Walmart Inc. headquarters. Due to a contract between Walmart Inc. and American Airlines, there was an expansion of American Airlines flights and their affiliates, including the introduction of the non-stop flight to New York. All commercial flights serving the northwest Arkansas region now fly from the Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
In 2023, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a law allowing regional airport authorities to detach from a municipality without the requirement that they be annexed by another municipality. On September 19, 2023, XNA began the process of detaching itself from Highfill.
For additional information:
Cook, Marty. “Clear for Departure?” Arkansas Business, April 17–23, 2023, pp. 1, 9.
Northwest Arkansas National Airport. https://www.flyxna.com/ (accessed January 24, 2022).
Wood, Ron. “NWA Airport Starts Separation from Highfill.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 20, 2023, p. 2B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/sep/20/northwest-arkansas-national-airport-seeks-to-fly/ (accessed September 20, 2023).
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