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Tim O'Reiley

Domestic airlines show renewed interest in McCarran; passenger counts rise 2.6 percent

25 June 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Domestic airlines showed renewed interest in Las Vegas in May, and it made a difference.

The 3,757,000 passengers who passed through McCarran International Airport in May marked a 2.6 percent increase from a year earlier, the best monthly growth rate since April 2012.

The 12 months prior to the most recent report, released by the Clark County Department of Aviation on Monday, included nine declines and 0.7 percent as the best gain.

The pattern during that stretch has been consistently rising international traffic that was not nearly large enough to offset cuts by U.S. carriers. The domestic passenger totals had been down or flat for 10 straight months.

In May, however, domestic passenger numbers rose 2.1 percent, moving in tandem with the 3.8 percent rise on the international side. For the year to date, domestic is still down 0.9 percent compared with the 5 percent gain for international, producing an overall dip of 0.3 percent at 17.1 million passengers.

All five of McCarran’s largest airlines flew more passengers into and out of Las Vegas in May compared with a year ago, something last accomplished two years ago.

A busier airport could provide a much-needed tailwind for a visitor industry that has recently found better numbers a challenge. For the four months through April, the visitor count is off 0.3 percent despite higher auto traffic counts on the major highways.

Southwest and AirTran, commonly owned and managed, carried 4.8 percent more passengers despite 45 fewer flights a week. Southwest is reaping the benefit of installing six more seats in its older planes, bringing a new-generation Boeing 737-800 into the local market and winding down AirTran’s presence to nothing.

Virgin America, one of the smaller airlines at McCarran, saw its number jump 18.2 percent during May after launching service to Los Angeles with great fanfare. This is already the busiest route out of McCarran.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant, with a schedule that can vary widely, posted a 10.1 percent gain. Because of tighter schedules in previous months after several years of building its route network, Allegiant is down 3.2 percent for the year.

Among overseas flights, Korean Airlines stood out by boosting its passenger count 50 percent after putting larger planes on its route to Incheon and adding one weekly flight to four total.

Heading east, British Airways went up 31 percent with expanded service to London while archrival Virgin Atlantic went down 6.8 percent.

However, Virgin Atlantic will pick up some marketing muscle Saturday when Delta begins selling seats on Virgin flights to London Gatwick airport and Manchester, England, a tactic known as code sharing.

The schedules hold the promise for continued passenger gains, with the number of seats coming to McCarran expected to increase 1.7 percent to 3.2 percent from June through August.