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Look back: The many names of Harry Reid International Airport

Updated December 20, 2022 - 8:06 pm

As Harry Reid International Airport transforms its signs away from its Sen. Pat McCarran past, many may not know what the airport was called before McCarran, when Las Vegas was growing in the post-World War II era.

On Dec. 20, 1948, Alamo airport, the original name of the airport where Harry Reid sits today, was renamed to McCarran Field. Alamo was first owned by aviator George Crockett (related to the Davy Crockett), who founded the Nevada State Airmen Association in 1945.

In the airport’s early days, it started out like most things do in Las Vegas — mostly dirt.

Surrounded by sagebrush instead of the commercial office buildings and resorts of today, the airport, created in 1942, was just three dirt runways, a water tower, a small hangar and a 200-square-foot shack used as a terminal, according to reports from the Review-Journal. Crockett’s wife Peg, who died in April, was a longtime advocate of preserving Nevada’s aviation history and her husband’s legacy.

In 1946, the McCarran Federal Airport Act set aside $7 million for airport development in Nevada. Prior to the passage of this act, the primary airport in Las Vegas was where Nellis Air Force Base is today, then called McCarran Field. The original McCarran Field held its name from 1941 to 1947 until the Air Force required additional space.

When Alamo Airport was purchased by Clark County to be developed into Las Vegas’ main commercial airport, the county took the name of the old airport and gave to the new one to honor Sen. McCarran for his involvement in developing aviation across the county. In the Senate, McCarran helped pass the 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act to create a single civil aviation authority in the United States, and sponsored the 1939 Civilian Pilot Training Act that led to the development of training programs across the county at the start of the war.

Clark County invested $1.5 million into the field’s development to accommodate larger aircraft and create sturdier runways.

On Sept. 5, 1968, Clark County Aviation Director Erle Taylor requested that McCarran Field be renamed to McCarran International Airport along with a move the make the airport a “landing rights airport,” which allows foreign flights to be given permission by Customs to land.

In 2016, before the 2017 Nevada Legislature session, then-State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, requested a measure to rename McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport. Segerblom now is a Clark County commissioner.

While some supported the name change due to Reid’s efforts to stop the construction of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, among other accomplishments, many cited McCarran’s aviation efforts in the state as a reason why the name should stay the same.

On Dec. 14, 2021, the airport was officially renamed to Harry Reid International Airport. Funding for the name change comes from fundraising, and not from taxpayer dollars.

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