McCarran passenger numbers show modest gains

The gradual recovery this year of traffic at McCarran International Airport continued during April.

The 3.46 million passengers that passed through the airport last month marked a 2.3 percent gain from one year ago. This fell into line with predictions by airport management of modest gains at least through midyear, bringing some hope to resort operators who have craved more visitors to help fill the more than 13,000 rooms that have come on line in the past three years.

The increase came even as airlines have raised their fares several times since January to offset a sharp rise in fuel prices. In a conference call with analysts last month, Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson counted 17 attempts at broad price hikes this year, although not all have stuck.

In a research report, Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Linenberg noted that airline revenues by certain benchmarks continued to grow by double-digit percentages in May, an indication that passengers were continuing fly even at higher prices. At the same time, jet fuel prices have started to moderate, just as gasoline prices have for drivers.

“I think (the April numbers for McCarran) are another indication that Las Vegas is strengthening a little bit,” said Paul Hobson, general manager of Stratosphere.

Despite the improvement in April, the passenger count is still 13 percent lower than it was at its April 2007 peak. However, Hobson noted, many of the lost passengers merely changed planes when US Airways ran a hub at McCarran and never ventured outside the terminal.

Southwest, by far the largest carrier into Las Vegas, was essentially flat at 1.3 million passengers.

Continental and United continued in divergent directions now that they are under common management and control. Continental’s passenger count went up 4.3 percent while United’s fell 22.8 percent due to scheduling trims and use of smaller planes on remaining routes. However, passenger counts for United code share Skywest jumped 130 percent.

Several of the airlines that carry fewer than 100,000 passengers per month, including Alaska, Virgin America and JetBlue, posted increases of at least 10 percent. No-frills carrier Spirit jumped 132 percent as it launched two daily flights to Chicago.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, however, experienced a 2.8 percent decrease as it began to trim schedules to save on fuel.

Among international carriers, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Philippine Airlines and Aeromexico all had flier counts rise at least 24 percent.

During the first four months of 2011, 13.1 million people boarded or disembarked from airliners at McCarran, up 2.9 percent.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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