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Gaming Guru

Tim O'Reiley

McCarran Airport's passenger numbers fall by 1.5 percent

3 December 2012

LAS VEGAS -- The slide in passenger traffic at McCarran International Airport continued in October with little hope of a turnaround soon.

During the month, the 3.68 million passengers who left or arrived by plane marked a 1.5 percent drop from the same month one year ago. It was fourth time in the past five months that the visitor industry benchmark has declined although at rates that have not exceeded 3 percent.

In November, schedules kept by the Clark County Department of Aviation, which operates McCarran, showed a 2.5 percent decline in the number of flights and 0.6 percent decline in the number of seats, as larger planes are used.

With similar numbers on the books for the coming months and planes already filled to record levels, department director Randall Walker predicted Nov. 21 that passenger totals will fall short of the 2 percent gain projected for the fiscal year that began July 1.

With more than 40 percent of tourists and conventioneers flying into Las Vegas and surveys showing for years that they spend more than people who drive, airlines are placing a higher hurdle in the path of economic recovery for the all-important visitor industry. Airlines have followed a strategy in the past couple of years of putting fewer seats in the sky, allowing them to raise fares to cover higher fuel costs.

Also, some airlines, particularly overseas, have seen ticket sales slip.

"Airlines are managing the softer passenger demand environment by limiting capacity growth to keep load factors (the percentage of seats sold) high," said Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association, in a Nov. 29 statement.

A bright spot at McCarran has been the addition of new flights and destinations to foreign countries, boosting the international passenger count by 6.7 percent to 261,000. Germany's Condor, Korean Airlines, Canada's Sunwing, Britain's Thomas Cook and Volaris and Vivaaerobus of Mexico all posted gains greater than 20 percent.

However, Canada's WestJet, which accounts for nearly a third of the international traffic and has grown steadily for several years, showed an 8.2 percent decline.

Looking domestically, smaller carriers Alaska, Virgin America and Spirit all posted passenger gains greater than 15 percent. But this wasn't enough to offset declines recorded by the established major airlines, including Delta, United and US Airways. Even Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which has matured into the fifth-largest carrier at McCarran, was down for the month.

The commonly owned and managed Southwest and AirTran, with 40 percent of the local market, grew 0.4 percent as flights were shifted from AirTran to Southwest. Overall, the 3.3 million domestic passengers were down 2 percent.

The 35.2 million passengers who passed through McCarran during the 10 months through October was 0.6 percent ahead of 2011. In May, before the current dip began, the year-to-date gain was 2.4 percent.