TEXARKANA, Ark. -- Business at Texarkana Regional Airport soared thanks to holiday travel in November.
At a regular monthly meeting Thursday, the Airport Authority's Board of Directors learned the airport saw 1,557 passengers between Nov. 16 and Nov. 26. The figure represented a 36.9% increase over the comparable 11-day period in 2022, according to a slide Executive Director of Aviation Paul Mehrlich presented during his report.
"As to Thanksgiving, we have had a combination of factors that helped our passenger numbers increase. Nationwide there has been ... continued recovery from the COVID pandemic. We also have begun marketing the airport, which we believe is bringing in more individuals," Mehrlich said.
Passenger numbers for all of October were up, Mehrlich said.
In October, the airport saw 4,118 passengers-- a 13% increase over October 2019 and 46% jump over October 2022.
Year to date, the airport has seen 35,652 passengers.
"I believe we are on track to exceed 40,000 by the end of the year, which we have not done since the year 2000," Mehrlich said.
However, the airport has experienced a 31% decline in year-to-date operations, which refer to takeoffs and landings.
In 2022, the airport reported a total of 30,674 operations for the year. That number was down to 19,538 for January-October 2023.
"In the early 2010s, we averaged 25,000 operations a year. In 2019, we had a gentleman at the airport conducting flight training, which inflated the annual operations. This ended in 2022," Mehrlich said.
Mehrlich told the board he expects airport operations will start to climb with implementation of the Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic training program in partnership with Texarkana College. Once the program launches, he said the airport will work to establish a flight school, which should give a bump to operations.
The program will be housed in a 23,000-square-foot building the airport is leasing to TC. It is set to launch in fall 2024.
Already, aviation companies Aspire, Triumph and Falcon have expressed interest in hiring graduates from the first class, Mehrlich said to the Board.
In an earlier Gazette article, Mehrlich and TC's Aviation Director Brandon Sanders said the A&P school factors into the airport's master plan, which includes landing a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, or MRO.
"We want to produce people who can learn here and stay here," Sanders said in July to the Gazette.
On Thursday, Sanders, a former Boeing technician, said 15 people so far have told him they will apply to the program once enrollment opens.
Sanders hopes to start enrollment in the spring. To make that happen, he said the program needs to pass a Federal Aviation Administration inspection and secure accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
"Inspection comes out of two things. They look at your stuff (instructional equipment), and they look at your curriculum," Sanders said about the FAA.
As far as instructional equipment goes, the A&P program already has two high-bypass, turbo-fan engines once used on 747s. Sanders said aviation mechanics students typically work on smaller engines. Considering Texarkana Regional's aim to land an MRO that can handle wide-body aircraft, it is appropriate TC's students have access to bigger engines.
The engines cost $80,000 each. A typical engine can cost tens of millions of dollars, Sanders said.
He was able to work out a deal for the parts through a referral from an Aviation Technician Education Council attorney TC has on retainer.
"The line between victory and defeat is who you know," said Sanders, who is aiming to have the remaining equipment in place by February.
Sanders also is working to organize the curriculum -- including plans to hire up to three instructors -- to have the program accredited in time for opening enrollment by the spring.
"It is an exciting place but a stressful place," Sanders said about starting the program.
In other business, the Airport Authority Board --
approved a $1.8 million change order to the contract with Nabholz Construction, which is overseeing the Jim E. Yates Terminal construction project. "This change order established the paving of the parking lots as well as finishing the airport entry road," Mehrlich said.
approved the design for the terminal dedication plaque, which has the names of members of both city governments.
discussed, at the suggestion of Board Member Dr. Robin Hickerson, the formation of a ribbon-cutting committee for the new terminal, which is slated to open in June 2024.