Northwest Arkansas Airport Flying High

Tuesday, August 10th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

With more people flying, the competition for their ticket money continues to pick up speed. A big competitor swooped in to Green Country's airspace last year and landed just 100 miles from Tulsa International Airport. The News on Six went to Highfill, Arkansas, to check on how the new airport over there is doing.

Things really are taking off at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. The $180 million field and terminal opened just ten months ago. Four commuter airlines have already moved from Fayetteville's Drake Field, and another is expected. Airport staff director Scott Van Landingham says carriers are adding more flights, including popular regional jet service, and everything is full. "We had projected about 200,000 this year. Looks like we're going to be well over 300,000 this year," he said. "It really has exceeded our most optimistic projections."

You're more likely to see suits instead of shorts in the crowd. Business travelers pay the bills here. The Eads from Seneca, Missouri, are the flyers airports hope to attract. "The parking and getting to and from the airport in Tulsa is terrible!," said Myrl Eads. "It's not worth it." In fact, boardings in Tulsa are down since the new airport opened. The Tulsa Airport Authority credits that to other problems including weather and labor disputes with the airlines. "Airlines prices have crept up a little bit, which we think is a major factor. The new airport is somewhat of a factor, but it's pretty minimal, said Brent Kitchen, airport authority director. "We still believe it will have minimal impact on Tulsa International."

Tulsa's airport will continue to sell itself with more flights and cheaper options. Kitchen says 30 per cent of the people who live in northwest Arkansas drove to Tulsa before the airport opened. And, he says, Tulsa should keep most of those flyers. All the while, the parking lot in Arkansas is full of cars and they're already extending the lot. As long as the economy's flying high, there seems to be room for both airports in these parts.

The Northwest Arkansas Airport Board meets Thursday to consider naming the terminal after Sam Walton's daughter, Alice. The Walton family gave millions to make the airport a reality.