McCarran International Airport (IATA: LAS, ICAO: KLAS, FAA LID: LAS) is the primary commercial airport serving the Las Vegas Valley, a major metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Nevada. It is located in Paradise, about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of downtown Las Vegas. The airport is owned by Clark County and operated by the Clark County Department of Aviation. It is named after Pat McCarran, a former Nevada senator who contributed to the development of aviation both in Las Vegas and on a national scale.
The airport was built in 1942 and opened to commercial flights in 1948. It has undergone significant expansion since then and has employed various innovative technologies, such as common-use facilities. The airport consists of four runways and two passenger terminals: Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. Terminal 1 is composed of four concourses, namely the A, B, C, and D Gates; Terminal 3 contains the E Gates. A people mover system is in place between the pre-security area of Terminal 1 and the C and D Gates, as well as between the D Gates and Terminal 3. East of the passenger terminals is the Marnell Air Cargo Center, and on the west side of the airports are facilities for fixed-base operators and helicopter companies.
McCarran received over 45,300,000 passengers in 2015, a 5.8% increase over the previous year but still below pre-recession levels. It is the 26th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic and the 8th busiest by aircraft movements. The airport has nonstop air service to destinations in North America, Europe, and Asia. It is an operating base for Allegiant Air, as well as a crew and maintenance base for Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines.
Anderson Field was the first airport to serve Las Vegas, opening in November 1920. Purchased by the Rockwell brothers in 1925, the airfield was renamed Rockwell Field, and Western Air Express (WAE) introduced commercial air service in April 1926. When the brothers sold Rockwell Field and the new owner canceled WAE's lease, the airline had to look for another airport. Local businessman P. A. Simon had built an airfield northeast of the city, to which WAE relocated in November 1929.
Despite rising traffic to Las Vegas, WAE reduced service to the city amid the Great Depression. Once its financial situation improved, the airline bought the airfield and established a monopoly on flights to it. When the city attempted to purchase the field and build a more modern terminal, WAE refused. With the advent of World War II, however, WAE was pressured to sell the airfield. Nevadan Senator Pat McCarran helped obtain federal funding for the city to buy the field and construct a new terminal. He also helped establish a gunnery school by the United States Army Air Corps at the field. For the senator's contributions, the airport was named McCarran Field in 1941.
The gunnery school was closed in 1945 after the end of World War II. However, the Army later wanted to reopen its base, provided commercial air traffic was moved to another airport. Aviator George Crockett agreed to sell his airfield, Alamo Field, to the county. The field had been established in 1942 and had grown into a major general aviation facility. Alamo Field also took Senator McCarran's name, becoming McCarran Field on December 19, 1948. The opening of this new airfield broke Western Air Express' monopoly on flights to Las Vegas, allowing other airlines to serve the market. Meanwhile, the Army reopened its base at the original McCarran Field in 1949 and named it Nellis Air Force Base in 1950.
Early expansion (1949–96)
In its first year of operation, McCarran Field served over 35,000 passengers. As Las Vegas' casino industry grew and air travel became more popular during the 1950s, passenger traffic to the airfield rose significantly, with 959,603 passengers transiting through it in 1959. To cope with the increase, airport officials began planning a new passenger terminal. While the original terminal was located on Las Vegas Boulevard, the new terminal was built on Paradise Road. The terminal, whose design was inspired by the TWA Flight Center in New York City, opened on March 15, 1963.
The airport was officially renamed McCarran International Airport in September 1968. Further expansion took place between 1970 and 1974 with the construction of the A and B gates. After the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, the number of airlines serving McCarran doubled from seven to fourteen in only two years. In response, the county launched an expansion plan named McCarran 2000, detailing expansion projects to be undertaken into the year 2000. Expanded baggage claim facilities, an esplanade, and a parking garage were inaugurated in 1985. The C Gates and the first line of the people mover system followed in 1987.
Further expansion took place during the 1990s. The Charter/International Terminal, later renamed Terminal 2, was opened in December 1991 to handle rising international traffic to Las Vegas. An additional, nine-story parking garage and an underground tunnel linking the Las Vegas Beltway to the airport were constructed as well. In June 1998, the southwest and southeast wings of the D Gates were opened.
During the late 1990s, the airport focused on attracting foreign airlines. In 1994, Condor Flugdienst began charter flights from Germany, launching scheduled service from Cologne and Frankfurt in 1997. Northwest Airlines and Japan Airlines introduced flights from Tokyo in 1998, and Virgin Atlantic began flying from London–Gatwick in 2000.
Innovation and D Gates completion (1997–2011)
In 1997, the airport introduced Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), becoming the first airport in the country to do so. With multiple airlines serving McCarran, it became inefficient to have separate facilities for each airline. CUTE allows for shared use of ticket counters and gates; an airline can overflow to inactive facilities during peak times.
McCarran furthered its common use strategy in 2003 with the SpeedCheck system, introducing Common-Use Self-Service (CUSS) kiosks. The kiosks allow passengers to check-in and print boarding passes for any one of multiple airlines. Previously, airlines had been installing their own check-in kiosks, defeating the use of CUTE and increasing congestion at the ticket counters. SpeedCheck kiosks have been installed at the Las Vegas Convention Center as well.
In January 2005, McCarran began offering complimentary Wi-Fi throughout its passenger terminals. The service initially covered 1,700,000 square feet (160,000 m2), making it the largest free Wi-Fi zone among U.S. airports at the time. The northeast wing of the D Gates opened in April 2005, along with a 160 feet (49 m) air traffic control tower at the center of the concourse. The expansion had been postponed following the September 11 attacks but resumed amid high growth in passenger traffic. Later in the year, the airport started a baggage-tracking system using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. Small RFID transmitters are inserted into baggage tags to improve bag identification, thereby lowering the risk for lost or misplaced luggage. McCarran became one of the first airports worldwide to conduct RFID tagging on a large scale.
On August 19, 2008, US Airways closed its night-flight hub at McCarran Airport, which had been established by predecessor America West Airlines in the 1990s. In order to maximize the use of its fleet, US Airways had been operating two banks of flights to and from McCarran in the middle of the night. The operation had made US Airways the second-busiest carrier at McCarran, providing over 100 daily round-trip flights. However, amid rising oil prices and continued demand for low fares, the airline decided to close the hub. In 2011, US Airways reduced flights to Las Vegas by an additional 40%.
In September 2008, the northwest wing of the D Gates was completed. This marked the completion of the concourse, which has a total of 44 gates.
In May 2011, construction began on a new air traffic control tower for McCarran Airport. The tower stands 352 feet (107 m) high and replaces a shorter tower that opened in 1983. However, in January 2014, it was discovered that a chemical coating to prevent the growth of a toxic fungus was added improperly. The problem was corrected by the following June, and the tower opened on August 28, 2016. The shorter tower will be closed and demolished.
Terminal 3 and later developments (2012–present)
Terminal 3 opened on June 27, 2012. The project was announced in January 2001 as a way to accommodate rapid growth in passenger traffic, including international traffic. It came into question amid the 2008 recession and decreased tourism to Las Vegas, but the county decided to proceed with the project, anticipating eventual economic recovery and a rebound in passenger numbers. Terminal 3 cost $2.4 billion to build and is one of the largest public works projects in Nevada. It replaced Terminal 2, providing more international gates and a larger U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. With its seven domestic gates, the terminal also eases congestion at Terminal 1.
In August 2015, the airport announced plans to convert seven gates in the northeast wing of the D Gates to international gates, six of which will be able to receive wide-body aircraft. To connect the gates with the customs facility in Terminal 3, an underground pedestrian passageway is under construction. The $51 million project is expected to be finished by early 2017.
McCarran Airport has four runways:
|Runway||Length (ft)||Length (m)||Width (ft)||Width (m)||Notes|
|1L/19R||8,988||2,740||150||46||Instrument landing system (ILS) equipped on Runway 1L|
|7L/25R||14,512||4,423||150||46||Instrument landing system (ILS) equipped on Runway 25R|
|7R/25L||10,525||3,208||150||46||Instrument landing system (ILS) equipped on Runway 25L|
All runways have been resurfaced with concrete, a more durable material than the previous asphalt. In April 2016, 7L/25R became the last runway to be resurfaced. This runway is also the longest at McCarran and typically serves one-third of the airport's annual traffic. Parallel to it is runway 7R/25L, which opened in 1991. On the western side of the airport are runways 1L/19R and 1R/19L. 1L/19R was originally a short runway suited for light aircraft before it was significantly widened and lengthened in 1997. Between the two sets of parallel runways was runway 14/32, which has been decommissioned.
Terminal 1 has four concourses, each of which is connected to a central pre-security area. Ticketing and baggage claim are located on Level 1 of this area. Level 2 houses the three security checkpoints, an esplanade with several retail outlets, and a USO lounge for military service members. West of the pre-security area are the A Gates and the B Gates, two Y-shaped concourses with circular ends. To the south are the C Gates, which can be accessed by the Green Line of the tram system. The satellite D Gates concourse lies to the east and contains three lounges: the Centurion lounge for American Express card holders; the Club at LAS, which is available to all passengers at a fee; and the United Club. The Blue Line of the tram system links the D Gates with the pre-security area.
The concourses and their gates are as follows:
- A Gates: A3, A5, A7, A8, A10–12, A14, A15, A17–23
- B Gates: B1, B2, B6, B9–12, B14, B15, B17, B19–25
- C Gates: C1–5, C7–9, C11, C12, C14, C16, C19, C21–25
- D Gates: D1, D3–12, D14, D16–26, D32–43, D50–59
Terminal 3 handles all international and some domestic flights to McCarran Airport. Level 0 of the terminal contains customs, baggage claim, and another USO lounge. Check-in, security, a second Club at LAS, and all gates are located on Level 2. The terminal has a total of fourteen gates, seven of which are domestic (E8–E12, E14–E15) and the other seven international (E1–E7). Four of the international gates have two jetways each to allow for quicker handling of wide-body aircraft.
Former Terminal 2
Terminal 2 opened in December 1991 as the Charter/International Terminal, serving all international flights and some domestic flights to the airport. It was located at the site of two previous terminals, one for PSA Airlines and the other for American Airlines. The PSA terminal was converted to an international terminal before both terminals were demolished to make room for a single Terminal 2. It had two stories and eight gates (T2-1 through T2-8), four of which could receive international flights. Terminal 2 closed upon the opening of Terminal 3, and it was demolished in early 2016.
Airlines and destinations
The following cargo airlines serve McCarran Airport:
Annual passenger traffic
Top airlines by international passengers
|2||Air Canada Rouge||715,340|
|8||Thomas Cook Airlines||86,175|
Top domestic destinations
|1||Los Angeles, California||1,264,490|
|2||San Francisco, California||1,071,440|
|6||Phoenix–Sky Harbor, Arizona||672,890|
|8||Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas||665,640|
|9||New York–JFK, New York||559,960|
|10||Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota||515,270|
Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum
The main exhibits of the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum on Level 2 of Terminal 1, above baggage claim. There are additional exhibits throughout the airport and at other airports in the city. Display items chronicle the early history of aviation in Southern Nevada. The museum is named after former Nevada Senator Howard Cannon, who contributed to the development of aviation in the county. Its administrator is Mark Hall-Patton, who has appeared on the reality television show Pawn Stars.
Maverick Helicopters, Sundance Helicopters, and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters each operate their own terminal at McCarran Airport. The Maverick terminal covers 6,000 square feet (560 m2), while the Sundance terminal occupies 13,000 square feet (1,200 m2). The Papillon terminal was established in 1997. The companies provide helicopter tours over the Las Vegas Strip, Grand Canyon, and other tourist attractions.
Janet flights depart from a private terminal located on the west side of the airport. The airline, which is owned by the U.S. Air Force and operated by AECOM, transports employees and contractors to airports within the Nevada National Security Site.
Marnell Air Cargo Center
The Marnell Air Cargo Center covers 200,928 square feet (18,666.8 m2) and can handle 100,000 short tons (91,000 t) of cargo. The $29 million facility opened in October 2010, replacing a smaller facility that existed at the site of Terminal 3. The center consists of two buildings, one of which is leased by FedEx and the other by multiple other companies, including UPS and Southwest Airlines.
Accidents and incidents
- On September 8, 2015, British Airways Flight 2276 aborted takeoff from McCarran due to engine failure. While preparing to takeoff from runway 7L for London Gatwick Airport, the Boeing 777-200ER suffered failure of its left (#1) engine, and a fire erupted. 14 passengers suffered injuries during the evacuation, and the runway was closed for eight hours. The aircraft suffered major damage, but it was repaired and returned to service in March 2016.
Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 have their own parking garages. Each also has its own economy lot, which provides lower parking rates, and a separate lot for oversize vehicles. Complimentary shuttle transportation is provided between the terminals and the remote Terminal 1 economy and oversize vehicle lots. In March 2016, the airport opened a cellphone lot, which provides free parking to people waiting for passengers.
A consolidated rental car facility opened in April 2007, located about 3 miles (4.8 km) from the airport. The facility, which sits on 68 acres (28 ha) of land, houses multiple rental car companies with 5,000 parking spaces on multiple levels. Courtesy shuttles transport passengers between the airport and the facility.
RTC Transit provides bus transportation to and from various parts of the Las Vegas Valley. Route 108, Route 109, the Westcliff Airport Express and the Centennial Express provide direct access to the airport. Buses depart from Level 0 of Terminal 1 and Level 2 of Terminal 3.
In January 2016, the county announced plans to build a four-lane, largely elevated expressway to McCarran Airport, passing over Paradise Road, Koval Lane, and Tropicana Avenue. The estimated $200 million project is expected to reduce travel time between the Strip and the Las Vegas Convention Center. However, critics have called the plan a "20th-century solution to 21st-century traffic issues." They propose the construction of a light rail system, which the county disapproves of given its higher cost and longer completion time.
Previously, there had been plans to extend the monorail system to the airport. In December 2006, Clark County approved plans for the extension, although funding was not specified. In its presentation to the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee in early 2016, Las Vegas Monorail expressed its continued interest in the extension. However, the project is largely no longer under consideration due to its high cost.
Ivanpah Valley Airport
In the late 1990s, the county decided to build a second airport for Las Vegas, to be located 30 miles (48 km) from the city in the Ivanpah Valley. Passenger traffic at McCarran had been rising steadily, and the county predicted that the airport would reach its capacity of 55 millions passengers per year by 2008. The county began the process of acquiring federal land for the airport, and it started funding an EIS. However, the advent of an economic recession in 2007 and the resulting decline in passenger numbers called the Ivanpah Valley Airport project into question. In June 2010, the project was indefinitely suspended. However, the county continues to monitor the site of the planned airport, and it will reconsider the project once McCarran Airport reaches its capacity.