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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Aviation Insider Predicts Rapid Growth at McCarran

13 October 2004

DENVER -- McCarran International Airport will be the fourth-fastest growing hub airport in the nation for the decade ending in 2010, an aviation expert said.

Brian Simpson of the Boyd Group, an aviation consultancy based in Evergreen, Colo., projected 26 percent growth in the number of people boarding planes at the Las Vegas airport over the 10-year period.

Simpson's presentation was part of a two-day Aviation Forecast Conference that concluded here Tuesday.

The Las Vegas airport, which is on track to serve a record of more than 36 million passengers this year, trails only Chicago's Midway Airport and airports in Milwaukee and Phoenix in the projection.

Mike Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, also said Las Vegas could see another boom year in 2005 when tourists evaluate their vacation plans and consider a desert holiday instead of a trip to the beach following the rash of hurricanes that raked Florida and the Caribbean.

"Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California would be the likely possibilities" for tourists concerned that catastrophic weather could wipe out their future vacations, he said.

Boyd said he and his team are still evaluating the economic damage done to the aviation industry by Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Ivan.

Airlines that have a major presence in Florida and the Caribbean include Southwest Airlines, McCarran's largest commercial passenger carrier, New York-based JetBlue Airways, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways and American Airlines, which uses Miami as a hub for Caribbean and South American flights.

The three hurricanes struck Florida over a six-week period in August and September.

Southwest is scheduled to announce its third-quarter earnings on Thursday and may give its first accounting of how the storms affected traffic and the company's bottom line. Scores of flights were canceled as a result of the storms. A Southwest spokesman would not say today how many operations were affected by the storms, but that information may be discussed in terms of revenue impact in Thursday's earnings conference call.

Dave Barger, president of JetBlue, told persons attending the Boyd conference Monday that "Florida bookings are coming back strong" and that advertising campaigns produced by resorts and convention and visitor bureaus in the Sunshine State have helped reassure travelers that the state is open for business. About half of JetBlue's 254 daily operations fly in or out of Florida.

But Boyd isn't so sure that there won't be some type of downturn when tourists plan their 2005 vacations, a phenomenon he dubbed "the hurricane factor."

"I would think Las Vegas would be on top of the list of potential places to go as an alternative," Boyd said. "People in the Northeast are pretty used to going to Florida, but after seeing what happened, they may not be so sure next year.

"Florida used to be considered a bottomless pool of growth," he added. "But there may be a hangover if there's a continued perception of Florida as a hurricane mill."

Boyd's team expects Las Vegas' continued growth would continue to make McCarran one of the fastest growing airports in the nation.

Simpson said America West Airlines, which operates a hub at McCarran, would continue to stimulate "organic growth" as the Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier continues to expand.

The Boyd projection says the far west will be the fastest-growing region in the county with a 23 percent increase in passengers for the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii.

The far west led the Great Lakes region (19 percent), mid-Atlantic (14 percent), Southeast and New England (13 percent each) Southwest (10 percent) and Plains (4 percent) in projected growth. The Rocky Mountain region is forecast to have a 4 percent decrease in traffic.

Simpson cautioned, however, that both Phoenix and Las Vegas could see their growth curtailed if the lack of water becomes a critical issue.

The Boyd forecast also said McCarran would be the sixth-largest hub airport in the nation by 2010, trailing Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, Chicago's O'Hare International, Los Angeles International, Dallas-Fort Worth International and Phoenix's Sky Harbor International.