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A federal grant increases the possibility that Northwest Arkansas National Airport will be able to re-establish air service to San Francisco.

The $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development program (SCASD) would provide a revenue guarantee and marketing money for nonstop flights to San Francisco International Airport. Breeze Airways provided a letter of support.

XNA publicized the grant earlier today.

“Breeze is interested in serving additional routes from XNA, including San Francisco International Airport,” wrote Eric Fletcher, legal and corporate affairs director for Breeze in a letter included with XNA’s grant application. “Adding an additional route is not without risks; incentives, including minimum revenue guarantee will help in consideration. While we cannot guarantee Breeze will initiate new service should XNA receive SCASD funding, it would greatly enhance the probability.”

Pandemic Ended SFO Route

Daily flights to San Francisco had been among XNA’s highest priorities when United Airlines agreed to fly to the California city in 2015. The planes made the daily trip until March 2020, ending the route soon after the COVID-19 pandemic started impacting air travel nationwide.

The San Francisco flights are of huge importance to Walmart, the Bentonville retailer that operates a large eCommerce corporate office in San Bruno, Calif. The office is less than five miles from the San Francisco airport.

It wasn’t just Walmart, though. Walmart suppliers with offices in Northwest Arkansas, including employees of companies such as Clif Bar and Clorox, benefitted from having the nonstop option.

In 2019, XNA had about 80 people a day make the trip to San Francisco or another airport in the Bay Area, and about the same number traveled from San Francisco to Arkansas each day. United captured 65% of those travelers, and the Bay Area ranked as XNA’s 10th busiest destination.

San Francisco Travel Slides

After United ended the service and corporate air travel fell off due to the pandemic, trips from XNA to the Bay Area plummeted. Just 26 people a day made the trip from XNA to the Bay Area and the majority relied on connecting flights via American Airlines.

Breeze first established air service at XNA in June last year, flying four times a week to Tampa. It expanded that service just a month later, adding four-times-a-week flights to New Orleans and San Antonio.

Its XNA service is much less robust now. Its flights to Tampa occur twice a week on new, bigger planes (the Airbus 220). Its twice-a-week flights to New Orleans are paused until Oct. 7, and it no longer jets off to San Antonio.

Breeze didn’t have any San Francisco service when it started service a year ago, but it does now. Those flights come to San Francisco from six places, including Louisville, Charleston and, Tampa.