How air travel molded Las Vegas
Book details how the travel industry affected the growth of our desert oasis
10 December 2012
If you’re still looking for a stocking stuffer for the history buff or aviation geek in your life, check out the recently published book by UNLV Academic Assessment Director Daniel Bubb, “Landing in Las Vegas.”
It is a nonfiction study of commercial aviation’s symbiotic relationship with Las Vegas resorts and a look at how McCarran International Airport helped Las Vegas grow into the city it is today.
Bubb says the book, published by the University of Nevada Press, represents 10 years of research he did while completing a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. It references hundreds of news articles and interviews with dozens of sources.
It begins with the first air-mail deliveries made to Southern Nevada in the mid-1920s and ends with the first intercontinental passenger flights that delivered tourists to the Strip in the late 1990s.
To me, the most striking revelation is how McCarran’s controlled capacity environment, in which airlines limit the number of flights and seats they operate and keep planes full as a way to be more profitable, is a continuation of issues that have lived in the shadow of the city’s growth for decades. Will airline executives, the city’s business community and government leaders learn from history?
“The 21st century is bringing new and important challenges to the airline industry through major airline mergers, reduced service to various locations, which not only means fewer flights, but limited time schedules and increased fees for baggage, seats and in-flight services,” Bubb writes.
The book explores a series of major events that shaped aviation and the city — the deregulation of the aviation industry in the ’70s; the arrival of must-see resorts, beginning with the opening of the Mirage in the ’80s; Las Vegas’ explosive growth of the ’90s; the devastating effect of the 9/11 attacks; the rise of low-cost air carriers and the decline of legacy airlines; and the roller-coaster ride of fuel pricing. It details how resort executives sought additional air capacity to fill the growing number of rooms on the Strip, and how the airlines resisted because leisure destinations traditionally add less to a company’s bottom line. There’s more money to be made from business travelers with expense accounts.
Some casinos cut deals with airlines to build capacity. The book explores the rise and fall of Las Vegas’ National Airlines, an operation with great promise that was hurt by spikes in fuel prices and finally folded in the aftermath of 9/11.
The origin of today’s airline strategy to build international lift is explained, and issues on the horizon are foreshadowed. Hint: Airlines are looking to upgrade their fleets with next-generation technology and lightweight carbon-fiber composite materials to improve fuel efficiency. The airline industry is adding new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350 jets to their fleets to fly more people longer distances.
There’s also ongoing debate about how much responsibility airlines have to offset engine emissions.
“The airlines continue to leave an unfortunate carbon footprint of contamination of the skies, continuing dependence on fossil fuels and invasive noise pollution at heavily congested airports,” Bubb writes. “Much work remains to be done toward a global open-skies agreement allowing the world’s airlines to fly through each other’s airspace and do business with each other’s markets. Those problems raise questions that only the airlines, the airport and the city of Las Vegas can resolve.”
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