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July passenger count rises at McCarran

In line with the trend this year, the July passenger count at McCarran International Airport rose 4.9 percent compared to one year ago.

By far, the biggest increase was posted by Spirit, which has added several new routes out of Las Vegas. This has vaulted it into the top 10 among local carriers after a 248 percent increase, with more new routes on tap.

In addition, other airlines including JetBlue, American and US Airways have stepped up their schedules. US Airways, in particular, carried 23.3 percent more passengers after adding planes to California and to its hub in Phoenix, reversing a steep fall in traffic when it began dismantling its Las Vegas hub about three years ago.

“Several years of big reductions in airlift hurt the ability of Las Vegas to absorb (hotel room) additions and exacerbated the downturn,” wrote Rodman & Renshaw analyst Robert LaFleur, in a research report. “After three years of cuts, 2011 has proven to be a turnaround year.”

During the first seven months of this year, the 24 million people who passed through McCarran represented a 3.9 percent increase from 2010. The passenger total in July alone was 3.7 million.

Projections for the seat counts to Las Vegas show gains through the balance of the year, averaging 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter and cresting at 7.1 percent in December.

On the other hand, some airlines have said they will reduce flying in the wake of higher fuel prices and a slowing general economy. Market leader Southwest, which was flat for July, and No. 2 Delta, which dropped 3 percent, both fall into that category.

“The key question is how well the U.S. airlines are able to weather a potential slowdown,” wrote Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Linenberg.

He said industrywide air cargo shipments fell recently. In the past, he added, this has presaged a drop in business and leisure passenger traffic.

International traffic at McCarran outperformed the domestic side by a wide margin, posting a 17.6 percent gain in July. The entry of Volaris into the market and added service by AeroMexico has almost erased the loss of Mexicana, which fell into bankruptcy nearly a year ago. Four other airlines, led by Canada’s Westjet, increased their counts by at least 20 percent.

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