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Chris Jones

First World Aviation Forum Lands at McCarran This Fall

12 April 2005

McCarran International Airport will this fall host the first Las Vegas World Aviation Forum, an industry-only event that will bring together airport, government and business leaders to discuss topics such as changing airport strategies and the prospects of Southwest Airlines-style discounted international air service.

McCarran is the nation's sixth-busiest airport, but unlike its larger peers, it relies more on point-to-point service and discount airlines than the traditional "hub-and-spoke" model used in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. Because many experts foresee an increased prevalence of point-to-point operations industrywide, Las Vegas is uniquely positioned to demonstrate that emerging business model, said Clark County's aviation director.Advertisement

"It gives us a chance to showcase what we have and get people to think about the advantages we can offer," said Randall Walker, who was inspired to bring an aviation forum to town after he attended China's Shanghai International Aviation Symposium last spring.

"We thought Las Vegas would be a great place to do this given that it's already a very popular destination, and because air service is so important to us," he added.

McCarran's forum, which will be organized in partnership with Arlington, Va.-based GCW Consulting, is scheduled for Oct. 24-26 at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson. If it's a success, Walker hopes to hold future forums regularly, perhaps every other year.

The inaugural event is expected to draw 200 to 300 people with registration fees of $695 per person.

Confirmed panelists include John Byerly, deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs with the U.S. Department of State; Andrew Cahn, director of government and industry affairs for British Airways; Mark Dunkerley, president and chief operating officer of Hawaiian Airlines; Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines; Mark Kahan, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Spirit Airlines; Scott Kirby, executive vice president of sales and marketing for America West Airlines; Michael Levine, a professor from Yale University Law School; Doug Parker, America West's chairman, president and chief executive officer; William Ris, senior vice president of government affairs for American Airlines; and Cliff Winston, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. Others could be still be added.

If anything, Walker said, he hopes the forum will encourage more foreign airlines to consider direct service to and from Southern Nevada. The Boeing Co.'s planned 787 Dreamliner series aircraft was a major discussion topic in Shanghai last year, and if that jet catches on with airlines, it could allow for point-to-point international service from destinations that would now struggle to fill the larger 400- to 500-seat Boeing 747s that now dominate overseas routes.

"We think that's a very promising thing for us in the future," Walker said. "To get people here to start focusing on those issues in Las Vegas we thought would bring more attention to us and get people thinking about us as one of those destinations."

The 787 will carry between 223 to 296 passengers. It is scheduled to begin service in 2008.

Ray Neidl, an airline industry analyst with New York-based Calyon Securities, said last week Las Vegas doesn't fit the mold when compared with other hosts of prominent North American aviation gatherings.

"Usually the ones that are successful are in big financial centers like New York or Los Angeles," he said, citing autumn's Aircraft Financing Forum at Manhattan's Marriott Marquis hotel and the SpeedNews Annual Aviation Industry Suppliers Conference scheduled for March at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Still, Neidl said that Phoenix's Annual International Aviation Symposium, which begins April 26, has been surprisingly successful in recent years; he did not speculate on the prospects of McCarran's upcoming forum.

Walker said he's not concerned about luring attendees away from other events.

"If we're in competition, so be it. We think Las Vegas, as a meeting destination, surpasses all the other ones," Walker said.