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Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport In Bentonville Turns 20

BENTONVILLE (KFSM) -- The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville, a staple in the Northwest Arkansas landscape, celebrated 20 years of serving air travelers earlier this month.

Since opening Nov. 1, 1998, the facility has adapted and expanded to meet the increasing customer base of a rapidly growing region.

5NEWS was at the official opening ceremony in 1998 where President Bill Clinton and, then congressman, Asa Hutchinson delivered speeches.

"I never dreamed that a cow pasture would someday become a major regional airport," Hutchinson said at the time.

Kelly Johnson, chief operating officer, has been with the airport for all 20 years, as well as working two additional years before the airport was open.

"All in all, looking back, we have been much more successful than we ever anticipated at this point," Johnson said. "It really doesn't feel like 20 years. It's gone by so quickly."

Though the airport has come a long way since opening, administrators say there is more to be done, including a $13.6 million repair and resurfacing of the airports runways and taxiways.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, was elected mayor of Rogers the same year the airport open. He said XNA has been an integral part of the region's infrastructure and will play a key role in its future growth.

“There is no question that the opening of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport transformed our community," Womack said.

"Over the last two decades, XNA has stimulated economic growth, connectivity, and opportunity in the region. The breadth of its value is easily seen through the millions of Arkansans, travelers, and businesses it serves and major expansions it has boasted over the years."

Johnson said expanding the airport's security area and creating a quicker route for drivers off Arkansas Highway 612 are major projects on the horizon.

"We need to go ahead and finish that roadway system. That's a priority for our board of directors," Johnson said. "We're actually meeting about that tomorrow, so they're making that roadway a priority for this airport."

Danny Strassele, the spokesman with the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said the airport and his agency have been working to find solutions.

He expects that a westward expansion of 612 will help.

"As part of that next segment, that would also include a tie in for the drive way that XNA is looking to build," Straessle said.

Johnson expects improving access to the airport will offer customer's an even better airport experience.

She attributes the airport's success to those flyers.

"If it weren't for our customers, we wouldn't have seen the growth we've seen," Johnson said. "We really appreciate each and every one of them."