The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) celebrates its 15th anniversary. Several prominent people helped in the construction efforts including the late founder of Walmart Stores, Sam Walton, and then Congressman John Paul Hammershchmidt.
“It doesn’t feel possible,” said Airport Director Kelly Johnson. “It’s gone very very quickly.”
On Nov. 6 1998 Air Force One landed surrounded by a crowd of about 8,000 people. Then President Bill Clinton said, “Today, in a sentence, at long last, Northwest Arkansas can fly.”
Johnson said, ‘We were really blessed, this was the third attempt to build a regional airport in Northwest Arkansas.”
It was an effort dating back to the 1950s. Johnson was hired 17 year ago with the Airport Authority and she remembers that day clearly.
“It finally happened and it has just done great things for the economic engine that is Northwest Arkansas,” Johnson said.
Roberto Sucre works for Walmart. Sucre flies with XNA about three times a year.
“It made a statement for the area,” Sucre said.
Sucre said it opened up opportunities for passengers flying international.
“It was wonderful when the airport opened,” Sucre said. “We didn’t have to go to Drake Field in Fayetteville.”
The airport is looking 20 years into the future with several projects in mind. Johnson said this could mean the possibility of adding parking decks, terminals, carriers and upgrades to its complexes.
XNA is also looking for add more carriers and direct flights and hopes that means lower costs to the passengers.
“I used the analogy a lot that we are like a mall. We manage the mall but we don’t tell a certain store in the mall what they charge for their jeans, wish we could, which we had that control but we don’t,” Johnson said.