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Slight decline expected in McCarran departures

As the first flights with great fanfare arrive at the $2.4-billion new Terminal 3 today, McCarran International Airport as a whole is facing a stretch of airline belt-tightening.

The trade group Airlines for America reports that the number of flights departing Las Vegas through December will drop 1.8 percent compared with the second half of 2011. With some routes upgraded to larger aircraft, the number of passenger seats will decline by a slightly less 1.2 percent.

Airlines for America compiles the schedules that the airlines load into their data systems months in advance, so the numbers could change.

The visitor industry watches the capacity number closely because it plays a large role in filling the valley’s 151,000 hotel rooms. Also, surveys by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have consistently shown that people who fly in stay longer and spend more than those who drive.

"I don’t think this is encouraging," said Stephen Brown, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "We have forecast for 2012 the highest visitor volume ever (at 40 million). If the airline forecast held true, that would make it difficult to meet that."

However, a decline in flights would not hit all resorts with the same impact.

"Given our location, we are more reliant on the drive market from Southern California," South Point marketing director Tom Mikovits said. "A small drop with airline traffic doesn’t make us overly concerned, but we don’t like to see anything go down for the city."

Traffic through McCarran does not always mirror Las Vegas as a whole. In April, for example, the visitor count dropped 0.9 percent, the first decline in more than two years, even as the airline passenger number increased 2.7 percent.

The correlation between available seats and the number of passengers is not always precise. During this year’s first four months, McCarran statistics showed 0.4 percent more seats this year but 2.7 percent more passengers.

Meanwhile, airlines in recent years have worked to keep schedules on a tight leash to drive up prices and put planes in the air only when they produce profits.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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