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McCarran passenger count slips in August

22 September 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Airline cuts in Las Vegas are taking a bite out of traffic at McCarran International Airport, to the tune of a 9.9 percent decrease in August compared with a year ago.

The decline to about 3.9 million passengers for the month was the 10th consecutive monthly decrease, a streak that includes February, which showed an increase on paper because of the extra day for leap year but was down on a day-to-day basis.

The August decline followed an 8.6 percent decrease in July, which was the biggest monthly passenger drop at McCarran since February 2002.

"It is not just load factor now, this is seat reduction," said Clark County Deputy Director of Aviation Rosemary Vassiliadis. "We expected this."

Vassiliadis was referring to cuts announced months ago by US Airways and others that will reduce the number of available seats to the Las Vegas area nearly 15 percent by the end of the year.

In December 2001, traffic at McCarran fell 14.5 percent, which was the last time there was a dip greater than the current decrease. However, August 2007 was the busiest month ever at McCarran, so the latest numbers are compared with an all-time peak.

The August decline was due largely to decreases in passengers on the main airlines serving Southern Nevada.

US Airways, the second-largest carrier in the Las Vegas market, posted a 22.9 percent decrease to 651,124 passengers. Southwest, the largest Las Vegas carrier with about 34 percent of McCarran's total passenger load, fell 7.3 percent in August to 1.4 million arrivals and departures.

United was down 4.8 percent and Delta fell 15.8 percent.

American was the only airline in McCarran's top five to post an increase, growing its passenger load 7.5 percent to 189,728.

Even Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which until recently had been posting double-digit increases in monthly passenger counts, fell in August. The low-cost, leisure airline's flier count decreased less than 1 percent to 155,519 for the month.

The August decline means McCarran traffic is down 4.8 percent from the 2007 pace. During the first eight months of 2008 there were 30.7 million arrivals and departures at McCarran, compared with 32.3 million through August of last year.

US Airways is leading the plunge, with 21.5 percent fewer passengers than at this time last year. United has fallen 7.1 percent behind the 2007 pace and Delta is down 3.2 percent.

Southwest, with nearly 10.9 million arrivals and departures at Las Vegas through August, is less than 1 percent ahead of the 2007 pace. American is 1.7 percent ahead of last year's pace.

The combination of high fuel prices and rocky economy are forcing airlines to cut back on capacity.

That's bad news for Las Vegas, which has about 20 visitors for every resident, about half of whom come by air.

Jeremy Aguero, a principal at Las Vegas-based business advisory firm Applied Analysis, said surveys show the number of people planning vacations is at a 30-year low.

That means airlines could be making more tough choices in the future.

"We are evaluating our flight schedules at Las Vegas and throughout the entire country on a daily basis right now," said Linda Macey, properties manager for Southwest Airlines. "With the uncertainty of fuel prices and the economy right now, it is certainly fluctuating a lot more frequently than it had in the past."

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