Crowd problem building at airport

Soon, every day may be the day before Thanksgiving at McCarran International

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

Congratulations! You made it through another harried Thanksgiving weekend of travel.

Traditionally, this is the busiest time of year for travelers, with flights packed the Wednesday before the holiday.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, that soon could become the norm at airports — including McCarran International Airport — on the other 364 days of the year.

A study by Cambridge Systematics placed McCarran near the top of 30 U.S. airports with the worst prognosis for Thanksgiving-level crowds.

One day a week here already is as crowded as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Cambridge reported, and that is expected to rise to two days a week by 2016 and every day by 2025.

The report was delivered during the recent Connecting America Through Transportation conference in Washington. At the same event, the American Public Transportation Association issued a report about how trains that connect airports to centers of commerce can enrich communities.

Several Southern Nevada tourism leaders attended the conference.

“Travel has been one of the leading sectors of the economic recovery, but that success won’t be sustainable unless our infrastructure keeps pace,” USTA President and CEO Roger Dow said. “The rest of the world sees this. But the sad news is we’re behind the rest of the world, and we’re falling further behind.”

How do we fix the airport dilemma?

Some airports already have added runways or are planning to add them. McCarran doesn’t have the space to do that, so it instead has looked into building a new airport south of Las Vegas.

McCarran officials also have tried to incentivize private aircraft to use Henderson Executive Airport and North Las Vegas Airport by selling fuel there cheaper than at McCarran.

Another potential fix is to build an air traffic control system that would enable less spacing between landings.

But any solution takes money.

The Eno Center for Transportation suggests that the federal Airport Improvement Program be restructured to direct money to projects with the greatest national benefit — which wouldn’t sit well with small communities. It also suggested modifying federal restrictions to let airports collect higher passenger fees, which are locked in at a maximum of $4.50 per departure and arrival.

But higher passenger fees mean higher ticket prices, and airlines usually fight such increases.

It’s a tough issue. But if we do nothing, we’ll almost surely see transportation bog down our tourism economy.

Tags: Opinion, Business