McCarran International Airport is under new leadership, at a time when domestic airlines are once again starting to make money.
Airlines have crafted conservative growth strategies and hope to fill their flights to capacity with minimal financial outlay.
How does that play at McCarran, which is working to bring more seats into the market?
Rosemary Vassiliadis took over as director of the Clark County Aviation Department about three months ago, replacing Randall Walker, who retired. She discussed her new job and what’s next for McCarran with VEGAS INC:
Passenger traffic has been running flat all year. Why? Are you concerned?
We’re always concerned.
Our station is profitable for all domestic carriers, and I think they’re just a little sluggish on their next step. The days of low yields and not making money in Las Vegas are gone forever.
Our job will be to convince the airlines that increases in seat capacity will keep them profitable. We’re going to be adding around 5,000 rooms with the SLS and Resorts World in a relatively short period of time, so we’re hoping that will intrigue them. We need 320 more passengers for every new room that opens.
Are there plans for the old Terminal 2 site?
I want to implode it. Whether I’ll be able to, I don’t know, but it is going away in some fashion.
An empty building is never good. It’s a prime site, and it will give us some flexibility for how we want to grow.
It could be a very simple terminal or attached to Terminal 1. If we end up needing more gates, that would be an ideal location to add some.
Is the idea of a second airport south of Las Vegas dead?
No. We’re still preserving that site (in the Ivanpah Valley, near Primm). If Las Vegas grows again to the south, we’re going to need that second airport.
We’re still moving toward capacity at McCarran. If we ever get 60 million to 63 million passengers a year, we’re going to need a second airport, even with a next-generation air-traffic system. It would be very shortsighted of us not to preserve that site.
What else is on your agenda for the airport?
I’m looking at building efficiencies. We have been growing and building. This is the first chance we’ve had to step back and look at how we’re operating.
We have to have the best customer service, not just the lowest-costing, cheapest way of doing business. We’re the first impression people have of Las Vegas, and we take that role very seriously.
So one of the first efficiencies we looked at is gate utilization. We closed part of the A gates as a cost-saving measure, but I can’t say whether they’re going to remain closed or if we’re going to close more. We built Terminal 3 knowing that it could handle additional flights. We’re waiting for some of the airline mergers to occur before we determine how to use that space.
What capital projects are on the horizon?
We’re going to be rehabbing our longest runway.
About a year from now, we’ll take that runway off line and work for six months so that we can have it back in the spring and summer. Then, we’ll do the other half of it the following fall and winter. That should minimize the down time during the busiest time of the year.
We’ll also be doing a facelift on the B gates. Right now, we’re concentrating on Terminal 1 to give it an updated and refreshed look. We don’t have a start time yet.
Will the airport ever build a cellphone lot (a free parking area where people picking up flyers can wait)?
It is something we are hearing about more than ever. We have to consider the customer-service aspect of it and the service it provides to locals. If that’s what they really want, and I can find a way that’s not going to affect our rates and the budget too much, then we’ll go ahead and look at it. Right now, it’s just in the research phase.
More importantly, we’re seeing makeshift lots on roads coming into Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. If that's going to happen, I’d rather supply it on our terms.
But they do cost money, so finding a site conducive to both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 will be important because we don’t want split lots since we have to maintain them.
A lot of people don’t realize you can park for free for 15 minutes in the short-term lot.
What airlines are on McCarran’s wish list?
We’re going to work hard on the Asian carriers: Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Airlines. We think all three are very viable for nonstop flights to Las Vegas.
Japan Airlines is also a company we’d like back. And Lufthansa would be a big hit here.
But the focus will be Asia. When we talk to the Chinese carriers, we want to show them that we’re different from Macau. Macau may have some beautiful megaresorts, but it doesn’t have the whole package that Las Vegas has — the value and entertainment.
What about domestic carriers?
We want all of them.
Something the convention authority is looking at is one-stops. We know that passengers prefer nonstop flights, but we also know that the major carriers aren’t going to overfly their hubs. The next best thing is a one-stop flight with no change of planes, so we’d like to establish as many of those as we can.