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— Finally, a sense of normalcy.

Through its first 10 years of operation, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport posted incredible numbers.

Passenger counts were constantly on the up, and the Highfillbased facility appeared invincible.

But reality took hold in a big way to start 2009. XNA not only saw its numbers plummet, but heading into the annual Wal-Mart Shareholders Meeting here in May, passenger counts were down a whopping 18.17 percent year-to-date. It was certainly a change, as the once bustling terminal building was eerily quiet. The lines at ticket counters were small to nonexistent, and there were plenty of open parking spaces in the pay lots.

Even XNA was showing signs of vulnerability in the struggling national economy. But a couple months ago, the numbers all of a sudden started climbing again.

"It's felt really good around here the last couple months," said Kelly Johnson, XNA director. "There's traffic. People. It almost seems normal around here again. I'm as interested as anyone to see if the numbers keep climbing."

And climb they have.

In June, XNA saw 116,080 passengers pass through its doors, up from the 112,799 that flew in and out of the Highfill airport in June 2008. It not only marked the first positive month-to-month ridership statistic recorded since last year,but also set an all-time record at XNA. The next highest monthly ridership total at XNA came in June 2006, when 115,705 passengers passed through the facility.

"The downturn in the economy last year, it really started totake its toll the beginning of this year," Johnson said. "The first three months were awful. People weren't traveling. We can't point to any one event that's caused the upturn, but I sense there's a little more confidence in the economy."

What's also helped, Johnson said, is ticket prices industrywide are down more than 19 percent from last summer. And that's continued to translate into more passengers at XNA.

XNA just received its July figures and, once again, monthto-month passenger counts are up. XNA saw 109,607 passengers pass through its doors in July, compared to 106,230 in July 2008.

"I'm not ready to call what we're seeing a trend just yet, but what I do know is, it's been a godsend for us," Johnson said.

Another significant contributor to the upward climb at XNA has been the addition of Allegiant Air, the airport's first lowcost carrier. Since starting service to both Los Angeles and Las Vegas from XNA this spring, Allegiant Air has been flying at 96 percent capacity, according to Johnson.

"They're very pleased with the community's response," Johnson said. "That's been a huge help."

Community, Pages 8 on 08/19/2009

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