PAL rises in Vegas as McCarran traffic falls

By Richard N. Velotta
Las Vegas Sun

Fri, Jan 30, 2009 (2 a.m.)

Last year ended on a sour note — another double-digit percentage decline — for passenger traffic at McCarran International Airport.

In December 3.2 million passengers arrived and departed from the airport, a 14.1 percent decline from December 2007, bringing the annual total of passengers to 44.1 million, 7.7 percent fewer than in 2007.

The five busiest carriers at McCarran had declines for the month, the worst being US Airways’ 31.2 percent drop to 468,890 passengers and United Airlines, which was down 14 percent to 186,037.

Southwest Airlines, the airport’s busiest carrier, had a 5.4 percent decline to 1.2 million passengers for the month.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air showed a 6 percent downturn to 153,630 passengers for December. The airline managed to squeeze out a fractional increase in passengers for the year with a total of 1.7 million.

Capacity cuts by many airlines to match the sluggish tourism economy resulted in most of the 27 domestic and international carriers that have flights at McCarran flying fewer passengers than they did last year.

Some airlines that restored previously canceled flights or added flights or increased capacity fared the best. Airlines that had more passengers to Las Vegas in 2008 than in 2007 include AirTran, JetBlue, Virgin America, Hawaiian, Aeromexico, Aviacsa, Philippine Airlines, Thomas Cook and Westjet in addition to Allegiant.

Despite the decline in passenger numbers at McCarran, it didn’t surrender its status as the sixth busiest United States airport, according to statistics released by the Federal Aviation Administration last week.

McCarran edged out Washington’s Dulles International Airport for the sixth position, the FAA said. The top five ahead of McCarran are Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International, Denver International and Los Angeles International.

The only change was Denver International leapfrogging Los Angeles for the fourth position since 2007. Denver moved up primarily because of major growth by Southwest Airlines, which more than doubled its presence there.

Southwest, meanwhile, issued its fourth quarter and 2008 financial results last week. Although the Dallas-based airline reported its 36th consecutive year of profitability, it showed a net loss for the fourth quarter.

The company reported a loss of $56 million, 8 cents a share, on record quarterly revenue of $2.73 billion. That compared with net income of $111 million, 15 cents a share, on revenue of $2.49 billion for the same quarter in 2007.

Southwest attributed the loss to a 4.5 percent decline in revenue passengers, in part, because of capacity cuts, and a loss in the company’s fuel hedging program. The recent dramatic decrease in fuel costs forced Southwest to take a special charge of $117 million for its fuel hedge portfolio in the quarter.

The company also said it has noticed “softness in post-January bookings” after a fairly healthy holiday travel season that extended into January.

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