Airport traffic tumbles 7.7 percent in 2008

About 44 million people arrived and departed McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas in 2008, a 7.7 percent decline from 2007.

The numbers released Friday by the Clark County Department of Aviation included a 14.1 percent decline in December to about 3.2 million, reflecting the recession that’s undercut Las Vegas tourism.

It’s the fewest people to use the airport in a year since 44.3 million arrived and departed in 2005.

And it is the biggest year-over-year percentage decline since traffic fell from 10.3 to 9.5 million arrivals and departures from 1980-81.

The five largest airlines serving Las Vegas, Southwest, US Airways, United, Delta and American, all flew fewer local travelers in 2008 than in 2007.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, the sixth-biggest carrier at McCarran, posted a increase of less than 1 percent for the year.

Robert Ashcroft, vice president of planning for Allegiant, said he expects Las Vegas resorts will need to keep slashing hotel room prices if there is any hope for reversing the downward trend in 2009.

“Overall industry capacity growth into Las Vegas will depend on (U.S.) consumers demonstrating renewed demand for Las Vegas vacations, which in turn we believe is probably dependent on Las Vegas providing such consumers with low-cost holidays, given the recession,” Ashcroft said via e-mail in response to the McCarran numbers.

McCarran director Randall Walker said he expects 2009 to be much like the final months of 2008, when double-digit percentage decreases were the norm.

“The real story is the last four months,” Walker said. “That is actually what we are planning for in this calendar year. Hopefully it will be better than that.”

Among the top five airlines, Southwest fell 2.1 percent on the year to 15.7 million arrivals and departures. In December the airline was down 5.4 percent.

US Airways was down 24.2 percent for the year 7.2 million arrivals and departures in 2008, including a 31.2 percent decrease in December.

United was down 7.2 percent to 3 million arriving and departing passengers. Delta was down 4.6 percent to 2.4 million and American down .4 percent to 2.1 million.

Allegiant flew 1.7 million passengers to and from Las Vegas.

Scheduled traffic at Terminal Two, which is where international flights arrive and depart, was down just 3.5 percent for the year to 2.2 million. But in December it was down 28.7 percent.

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