Talk of new Las Vegas airport in the air again

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McCarran Airport in Las Vegas recorded its busiest month ever in May.
McCarran Airport in Las Vegas recorded its busiest month ever in May. Photo Credit: Ronda Churchill/McCarran International Airport
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

May was the busiest month ever recorded at McCarran Airport, sparking a renewed discussion about when another airport will be needed to accommodate the growing traffic.

There were 4.6 million arriving and departing passengers that month, representing a 5.3 percent year-over-year increase and beating the previous record high for a month, 4.4 million in October. This year through May, 20.8 million have passed through the airport, a 3.1 percent increase from the same period last year.

A record 49.7 million were served in 2018, the airport's 70th year of operation, marking the eighth consecutive year-over-year increase.

Almost 50 percent of visitors to Las Vegas come through McCarran. Not everyone has a chance to appreciate the airport's slot machine, lounges, art, aviation museum and other amenities, but the airport currently appears to be a satisfactory experience for visitors. The airport was ranked No. 1 along with Orlando in passenger satisfaction among Mega Airports in the J.D. Power 2018 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

The leading airport official is confident the facility can handle more passengers before another long-discussed airport in the region is needed to accommodate growth.

"We feel that we can easily accommodate 60 million passengers going in and out," said Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, during a Henderson Chamber of Commerce event earlier this month, according to the Las Vegas Sun. The number of hotel rooms is a key data point, she said, noting that the Las Vegas region would need to add about 30,000 hotel rooms to its current 149,000-room inventory to accommodate that many tourists.

She said the department is continuing to pursue a second major airport to be located on what is now federal land in Ivanpah Valley, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas. But a new airport is at least 15 years away.

The FAA, the Bureau of Land Management and the Clark County Department of Aviation signed a memorandum of understanding in June to conduct an environmental impact study for an airport at a 6,500-acre site in the Ivanpah Valley, along Interstate 15 between Jean and Primm. The study is estimated to take almost two years.

Building an Ivanpah Valley airport to supplement McCarran was last seriously discussed in the early 2000s, but it was put on hold because the recession caused a drop in tourism. The site's location so far south of the Las Vegas Valley is needed because of airspace restrictions north of McCarran around Nellis Air Force Base.

With the arrival of the NFL's Raiders (2020), the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (2020) and the opening of resorts such as Resorts World (3,400 rooms, late 2020), Circa (777 rooms, late 2020) and the Drew (3,780 rooms, 2022) all on the way, officials are watching closely to see when to thrust the Ivanpah concept into flight.

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