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LAS VEGAS -- Local aviation officials may have celebrated a bit prematurely last month when it was touted that McCarran International Airport would welcome 40 million passengers in 2004, an accomplishment claimed by a handful of other airports.
In reality, McCarran hosted more than 41.4 million travelers last year, vaporizing all previous 12-month records and keeping the Las Vegas airport within the upper echelon of the busiest American airports.
McCarran's final count topped the 2003 total of 36.3 million passengers, an increase of 14.3 percent. The previous 12-month record was set four years ago when 36.9 million arriving and departing travelers came through the airport.
"The airport is a reflection on how the city is doing. If the hotels are doing well, then the airport is doing well," said Randall Walker, Clark County director of aviation.
December was also a busy month at McCarran, with 3.3 million passengers, an average of almost 107,000 travelers a day. That was an increase of 13.2 percent from the previous December, when 2.9 million passengers were recorded.
Brian Gordon, a partner in Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas-based financial consulting firm, said McCarran's overall statistics reflected Las Vegas' positive economic trends. He said the increase in passengers indicates a large amount of high-value customers flocking to Strip resorts.
"December was good for air travel in and out of Las Vegas because of the National Finals Rodeo at the beginning of the month and the holiday weekend at the end of December," Gordon said. "Las Vegas has also had a large number of international visitors. The numbers at McCarran are another sign of continuing interest in Las Vegas."
Gordon said drive-in traffic from Southern California has decreased while air travel is on the rise, which also indicates higher-value customers willing to spend more on airline travel.
In 2003, only four U.S. airports reported more than 40 million passengers, according to the Airports Council International-North America, a Washington-based trade group. They were Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson (79 million), Chicago O'Hare (69.5 million), Los Angeles International (54.9 million) and Dallas-Fort Worth (53.2 million).
In 2003, McCarran was the seventh-busiest airport in America, trailing both Denver International and Phoenix Sky Harbor. Walker said airport officials won't know until March or April how McCarran International Airport ranks nationwide.
Southwest Airlines was McCarran's busiest carrier last year, serving just under 13 million passengers, a 10.8 percent increase from the 11.7 million in 2003. Southwest also flew just over 1 million passengers in and out of McCarran during December.
America West, the airport's second-busiest airline, increased its passenger count 12.5 percent for the year, shepherding 6.8 million passengers, a jump from 6.1 million in 2003.
American Airlines had the largest percentage increase in December of any airline, flying 208,265 passengers in and out of McCarran during the month, a 23.3 percent jump over December 2003. For the year, United Airlines had the largest percentage increase, reporting almost 3.2 million passengers, an increase of 16.7 percent over 2003's total of 2.7 million.
Both Southwest and America West are expected to add more flights in and out of McCarran this year.
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