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Chris Jones

Travel and Tourism: Las Vegas Airport Passenger Count Soars

30 November 2004

Air traffic in Southern Nevada has increased so dramatically this year, it's almost disappointing when a new month's passenger tally fails to top the previous high.

Local aviation officials will have to live in relative agony for at least a few more weeks after October's 3.65 million passenger count fell about 53,000 travelers short of July's all-time record of 3.69 million. Alas, this year's 10th month is now just the second-busiest month in McCarran International Airport's 56-year history.

Ho hum, and bring on November numbers.

Powered by the release of pent-up U.S. travel demand, an abundance of low-fare carriers and the global pizzazz that seems to accompany its host city, McCarran has set monthly passenger volume records in both March and July of this year. And come next month, it's likely to exceed its best-ever 12-month total in only 11 months this year.

"Demand continues to be strong; that's the good news," said Susan Donofrio, senior airline analyst for Fulcrum Global Partners, an independent Wall Street investment research firm. "The bad news (for airlines) is that fares are hstorically low. The industry would like to see people paying a little more for their tickets."

For consumers, however, low fares have served as an invitation to travel, as evidenced by McCarran's resurgent passenger activity in 2004.

Last year, for example, October was McCarran's busiest month, as nearly 3.25 million travelers used the airport. But thanks to this year's steady surge, airport data shows 2003's top monthly total has been surpassed eight times in the first 10 months of this year.

With 10 months on the books and early returns indicating a solid November, Las Vegas will likely set a record for annual air travelers in 2004 when this month's numbers are released in late December.

Through October, the airport's 34.7 million passengers was about 2.13 million off the 12-month record; only one month this year has failed to exceed 3 million passengers.

McCarran's busiest year so far came in 2000, when nearly 36.9 million air travelers came through Las Vegas. That figure would likely have been topped the following year if not for the terrorist hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001.

Las Vegas ranked as the nation's seventh-busiest airport in 2003, with about 1.1 million fewer passengers than sixth-ranked Sky Harbor International in Phoenix, the trade group Airports Council International reports.

Sky Harbor's October passenger count has not been released, but through September, McCarran's 2004 total was nearly 1.6 million better than its Phoenix counterpart.

Current passenger data for fifth-ranked Denver International was unavailable Monday, but McCarran was only 1.2 million passengers behind that airport's total in 2003. Should traffic here greatly outpace that of Denver, McCarran could conclude 2004 as the nation's fifth-busiest airport.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines handled more than 1 million passengers for the eighth consecutive month with 1.12 million October passengers, an 11.9 percent improvement from a year ago. Through October, Southwest's nearly 10.9 million passengers was up 10.4 percent.

Tempe, Ariz.-based America West maintained its usual No. 2 spot with 583,797 October passengers, up 13.6 percent. For the year, its 5.7 million tally was up 11.4 percent.

United, Delta and American rounded out the month's top five. United's 283,555 was up 12.6 percent from a year ago, while Delta's 248,585 was flat. American enjoyed a strong month, however, with 236,341 October passengers, an increase of 21.3 percent. Overall, each of McCarran's 10 busiest airlines reported year-over-year gains.

McCarran's top overseas carriers posted mixed October re sults. Virgin Atlantic Airways' 13,939 passengers was up 25.9 percent, though Japan Airlines' 8,071 total was flat from a year ago.



October passengers at McCarran International Airport:

2004 -- 3,646,274

2003 -- 3,248,066

2002 -- 3,118,481

2001 -- 2,785,583

2000 -- 3,327,791

Year-to-date passenger totals through October:

2004 -- 34,730,786

2003 -- 30,358,040

2002 -- 29,585,149

2001 -- 30,108,920

2000 -- 30,792,194

SOURCE: Clark County Aviation Department