Numbers Game: Dip In Air Traffic Hurts Las Vegas

Vegas airport billboards i i

With the decline in air traffic to Las Vegas, there are fewer people reading the glitzy billboards that advertise shows at casinos. Ted Robbins/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ted Robbins/NPR
Vegas airport billboards

With the decline in air traffic to Las Vegas, there are fewer people reading the glitzy billboards that advertise shows at casinos.

Ted Robbins/NPR

What Should Be In A Passengers' Bill of Rights?

A ramp controller i i

Ramp controller Charles Blackstone at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas now has more views of empty gates as a result of the decline in flights. Ted Robbins/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ted Robbins/NPR
A ramp controller

Ramp controller Charles Blackstone at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas now has more views of empty gates as a result of the decline in flights.

Ted Robbins/NPR
Passenger capacity graphic

The recession has hit every part of the airline industry hard. Fewer passengers mean fewer planes in the air — and that means tough times at airports around the country.

Flights are down more than 20 percent at some facilities, and additional cancellations are expected.

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, there are fewer tourists dragging suitcases past the ringing slot machines and glitzy billboards that line the terminals.

Traffic is down 15 percent, and that worries local officials. Cathy Tull, with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, says her city is a one-industry town: "So, if there is a drop in air service, it affects the entire community," she says.

Fewer Gamblers

At the airport, landing fees are down. Those are the fees airlines pay for each takeoff and landing, and they run between $250 and $500 per flight. The concession business is stable, but fewer people are stopping to play the slot machines that are usually a big source of income.

The airport authority has had to cut $30 million from its budget since January. Randall Walker, who heads aviation for Clark County, says he's left some staff positions unfilled, and he's cutting back in other places, too.

"We used to replace the hand towels anytime the roll got below 25 percent," he says. "Now, we don't replace them until they go out." That change saves the airport $300,000 a year.

Outside the airport, the businesses that depend on travelers are feeling the slowdown. The local Advantage rental car operation has cut its payroll, letting 22 workers go. It also has cut the number of cars on its lot, from 1,500 to 900. Hotels, shows and restaurants feel the effects, too.

Upside To Downturn

There is a bright side to a slowdown: It makes it easier to renovate and expand.

McCarran International Airport has been able to raise money through a bond issue to build a new $1.5 billion terminal, scheduled to open in 2012.

In Vegas, someone is always willing to make a bet on the future.

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