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Chris Jones

Japan Airlines Might Drop Las Vegas

6 February 2006

Las Vegas could lose its only nonstop air service from Asia next year.

But local tourism officials say the effects of Japan Airlines' likely exodus are minimal and that Asian demand to visit this city will remain strong with or without the carrier's three direct weekly flights from Tokyo.

JAL representatives have informed McCarran International Airport that they could cancel their Las Vegas service by late summer or early fall. A decision is expected early next week.

The airline is losing money systemwide and may retire some of its older jets, including those used on its Las Vegas route, Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker said Thursday.

JAL President Toshiyuki Shinmachi told Bloomberg News last month that the carrier will reduce capacity on international flights by 7 percent and retire its Boeing 747 aircraft in favor of smaller 777 or 787 models that burn less fuel.

A Los Angeles-based JAL spokesman confirmed Thursday that the company is studying changes to its international service for the coming fiscal year, which begins April 1.

She could not address Las Vegas specifically, though she added every route will be evaluated.

"If I were a betting man, I would bet that they're going to pull the service," Walker said.

Local tourism leaders have targeted Japan as a key growth market as the city seeks to host more foreign travelers.

Still, JAL's pullout would not greatly affect the city's Asian marketing efforts, which began years before direct flights were available.

"It's disappointing for the destination because our goal is to get as much direct service as possible. But at the end of the day, (Japan Airlines) is not the only way for foreign travelers to get here," Terry Jicinsky, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's senior vice president of marketing, said Thursday.

Last year's international visitor statistics for Las Vegas won't be available for several months.

But airport data showed Japan Airlines last year carried 86,468 arriving and departing passengers through this city last year, up 5.3 percent.

In 2004, the carrier's approximately 41,000 arrivals likely accounted for 19 percent of the city's 217,000 Japanese visitors reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce and convention authority.

Japan's peak year for Las Vegas visitation came in 2000, when 511,000 Japanese came here.

Should Japan Airlines exit, Japanese travelers could still reach the city via car, bus or domestic connection after entering the United States elsewhere.

Airlines such as American, Northwest and United offer widespread trans-Pacific service through Los Angeles and San Francisco, as do several Asian carriers.

"If United adds segments from San Francisco because of additional demand, then we haven't lost much," Walker said. "But we won't know that until we see what happens."

Travelers in southern Asia can reach McCarran via Philippine Airlines, which runs four weekly round-trips from Manila by way of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Singapore Airlines briefly offered direct service from its homeland via Hong Kong. But poor ticket sales forced it from McCarran in April 2003, less than nine months after its local debut.