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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Airport Efforts Appear to Work

1 March 2004

Sometimes people's fondest dreams come true -- and sometimes their worst nightmares never materialize. So far this weekend, both such scenarios have applied to the operators of McCarran International Airport.

Faced with Thursday's conclusion of a 90,000-delegate Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show, poor weather conditions in many parts of the nation and Friday's typical arrival of tens of thousands of weekend leisure travelers, airport officials earlier this week braced for an expected surge in delays such as those that plagued McCarran during peak travel periods earlier this year.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the magnetometers: The long lines never really materialized, and at least through Friday, traffic continued to flow relatively smoothly at the nation's seventh-busiest passenger airport.

"Each day like this is a good day," Clark County Deputy Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis said Friday afternoon. "We've put some new steps in place and when you factor them together, it seems to be a really positive thing."

Following January's reported four-hour-long security waits on the heels of the estimated 115,000-attendee International Consumer Electronics Show, airport officials and federal security workers began studying different methods to reduce the amount of time it takes to search travelers for banned items at each of McCarran's 25 security lanes.

Last weekend, the Transportation Security Administration enacted several undisclosed steps to speed the screening process, while McCarran officials intensified their efforts to prepare passengers for the checkpoints long before they arrived there. In addition, some Delta Air Lines flights were shifted from the busy D-gates concourse to the less-trafficked A- and B-gates areas, Vassiliadis said.

The combination of those efforts seems to have paid off, at least so far, she said.

"I don't want to make it seem like we've solved all of the problems here because this was not a 100-plus percent weekend like CES," Vassiliadis said. "Almost everyone left that show on the same Sunday; with MAGIC, people had a wider spread in which to leave town.

"But seeing everything work together, a series of steps, will help us save seconds off each person's screening time. And if you've got a thousand people trying to go through a line at once, those seconds add up fast."

Airport planner Carl Scarbrough also scoffed at a published report that claimed McCarran's lack of an Instrument Landing System on two of its four runways played a major role in recent delays there.

The airport never uses all four runways at once because wind conditions dictate whether planes can take off at its parallel east-west runways, or an adjacent north-south pair, he said. In addition, inclement weather forces the airport to reduce by up to 20 percent its typical peak of 70 takeoffs or landings per hour, regardless of whether the ILS is in place on all runways.

"The argument that another ILS would increase our capacity to land aircraft during poor weather conditions is not true," Scarbrough said. "It wouldn't allow us to land planes on all our runways simultaneously ... because it would put aircraft in the path of other aircraft. It wouldn't be safe."

Passenger's using McCarran's top airline didn't fully escape unwanted delays on Friday, however. Airport spokeswoman Debbie Millett said problems with Southwest Airlines' computer system created a late-morning backup at that carrier's ticketing counter.

Any problems at the Dallas-based company would significantly affect operations at McCarran because Southwest, which carried more than 32 percent of all local air travelers last year, is easily the airport's busiest airline.