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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta
 

July Sizzling for McCarran

25 August 2005

LAS VEGAS -- McCarran International closed in on a new milestone -- 4 million passengers in a month -- as the city's airport recorded an all-time record in July.

McCarran officials said Wednesday that 3.99 million people used the airport that month, a 7.9 percent increase over a year ago and a total that surpassed the previous record in March of 3.93 million.

Several new conventions in July, including the opening of the World Market Center, highlighted the month. In addition, the city hosted a free concert for its centennial celebration over the Fourth of July weekend and the month also is a popular time for local residents to escape the heat.

The record passenger count boosted the seven-month total at McCarran to 25.7 million people, 7.1 percent ahead of last year's pace.

America West Airlines capitalized most on the month, recording a 19.7 percent increase over the previous year, thanks to a flood of new flights. The airline served 738,196 passengers for the month. America West boosted the number of flights by 16.2 percent, to 92 a day in July while its commuter partner, Mesa Airlines, operating as America West Express, more than doubled the number of flights it operated to 22 a day.

America West remained well behind market leader Southwest, which served 1.3 million passengers for the month, an 8.3 percent gain over the same month a year ago. Southwest had an increase of 5.6 percent more flights over the previous year for the same period.

Meanwhile, the rest of the top five airlines at McCarran declined or stayed flat, reflecting decisions to reduce flights over the previous year.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines showed the biggest decline, off 10.8 percent to 217,730 passengers for the month after cutting 14.5 percent of its flights from over a year ago. American's passenger count fell 1.2 percent to 225,787 after trimming 10.1 percent of its flights since July 2004.

No. 3 United Airlines, which continued to operate under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, had a 0.6 percent increase to 274,948 passengers after increasing its schedule by 3.5 percent over the previous year.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air increased its passenger count by 57.2 percent to 76,181, jockeying for the No. 11 position at McCarran with Alaska and JetBlue.

On the international front, every carrier showed a significant increase with Mexicana up 102.9 percent to 20,719 passengers, Virgin Atlantic up 48.6 percent to 4,440, and Japan Airlines up 18.9 percent to 7,410 passengers for the month.

Phillipine Airlines also showed a healthy 30.1 percent increase to 5,924 passengers for the month.

Aviation consultant Mike Boyd of the Evergreen, Colo.-based Boyd Group, said he isn't surprised by McCarran's record growth.

"Airplanes are full and a far more dominant part of discretionary spending is going to travel than it did two years ago," Boyd said. "And when discretionary spending for travel is up, guess what kinds of markets are going to do the best? Las Vegas."

Boyd said nationwide, passenger traffic is up around 6 percent, but Las Vegas is experiencing "fundamental growth."

"Among the nation's fastest growth airports, some on the East Coast are seeing higher traffic driven by fare wars," he said.

Boyd said he expects traffic at McCarran would continue to climb long-term as long as it isn't curtailed by an issue like a shortage of water.

And the growth in passenger traffic is a reason why he thinks experts who say losing a major airline to a bankruptcy liquidation are wrong.

"When load factors hit 80 percent, planes are virtually full," he said. "If we lose an airline and all that capacity, there wouldn't be enough seats for all these passengers."