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Chris Jones

McCarran Passenger Count Swells

27 September 2005

McCarran International Airport's turned in the busiest August on record despite high summer temperatures and soaring fuel prices.

Nearly 3.9 million passengers flew through Las Vegas during the month, up 6.7 percent from August 2004, the Clark County Aviation Department said Monday.

Year-to-date, the airport's nearly 29.7 million passengers represented a 7.1 percent gain from the first eight months of last year.

If the current pace continues, McCarran would complete this year with nearly 44.5 million arriving and departing passengers. That would easily eclipse its best 12-month total of nearly 41.5 million passengers set in 2004.

Records are regularly broken when it comes to the local travel industry, which continues to fill hotel rooms using additional air service from existing destinations and new markets.

As a result, McCarran is growing nearly constantly. An 11-gate D concourse expansion debuted in April and efforts continue to complete a proposed $2.4 billion airport build-out by 2011.

The D-gates expansion alone allows McCarran to handle 3.1 million more passengers per year, space that's already in demand given recent traffic growth.

In July, for example, McCarran enjoyed its busiest month ever with more than 3.99 million passengers. Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker expects the airport to enjoy its first 4 million-passenger month before the end of the year.

That could be accomplished as early as this month. Officials say September traditionally marks the start of the busy fall convention period.

Citywide convention attendance for August has not been released, but big business gatherings included the World Shoe Association trade show, which drew an estimated 35,000 attendees to Mandalay Bay Aug. 4-7; and the semiannual Men's Apparel Guild in California Marketplace, at which attendance was a projected 96,000 over a four-day period beginning Aug. 29.

Tempe, Ariz.-based America West Airlines again trailed low-fare rival Southwest Airlines for monthly passengers. But no major local carrier enjoyed a larger jump in August traffic than America West, whose 723,056 total was up more than 21 percent from the same month a year ago.

Year-to-date, America West's nearly 5.2 million passengers represented 14 percent growth as it increased its operations over the past year with new service to Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City, among other cities, and added flights to destinations it previously served from McCarran.

America West's merger with US Airways is expected to close by month's end. Once complete, the combined company will fly under the US Airways brand. Local passenger totals, though, will likely remain separate for at least three more months until the companies' reservations systems are unified, Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County's deputy aviation director, said Monday.

US Airways is a minor player at McCarran with just 99,590 August passengers.

Dallas-based Southwest's August count topped 1.2 million, a 5.5 percent increase, while its 9.25 million passengers through August was a 6.3 percent gain from a year ago.

McCarran's August growth came despite reduced performances from three of its busiest carriers.

United Airlines ranked third in August with 270,392 passengers, down 1.2 percent. Delta Air Lines ranked fourth with 212,413 passengers (down 10 percent), while American rounded out the month's top five with 210,116 passengers (down 4.5 percent).

Delta simply had fewer passengers on its planes in August, Vassiliadis said, while United and American dropped one flight apiece.