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The airport was built in 1942 and opened to airline flights in 1948. It has expanded since then and has employed various innovative technologies, such as common-use facilities. The airport has four runways and two passenger terminals. East of the passenger terminals is the Marnell Air Cargo Center, and on the west side of the airport are fixed-base operators and helicopter companies.
Postcard showing Senator McCarran at the original McCarran Field, 1941
The first airport at Las Vegas was Anderson Field, opened in November 1920 southeast of present-day Sahara Ave and Paradise Rd. Purchased by the Rockwell brothers in 1925, the airfield was renamed Rockwell Field, and in April 1926 Western Air Express (WAE) began carrying mail (and eventually passengers). 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 (now Nellis Air Force Base) and WAE moved there in November 1929 and bought the field a few years later.
When the city tried to buy the field and build a more modern terminal, WAE refused, but with the advent of World War II WAE was pressured to sell. Nevada Senator Pat McCarran helped obtain federal funding for the city to buy the field and build a 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.
A third airfield, Alamo Field, was established in 1942 by aviator George Crockett south of Las Vegas, at the present location of McCarran Airport. The Army sought to open a base at the site of McCarran Field, so Clark County purchased Alamo Field to make it its airline airport. Alamo Field became the new McCarran Field on December 19, 1948. Meanwhile, the Army reopened its base at the original McCarran Field in 1949 and named it Nellis Air Force Base in 1950.
Early expansion (1949-1996)
In its first year of operation McCarran Field served over 35,000 passengers. The April 1949 OAG shows 12 departures a day: 5 Western, 5 TWA and 2 United. The Las Vegas casino industry grew during the 1950s, and the airport handled 959,603 passengers in 1959. The May 1959 OAG shows 47 weekday departures: 13 Western, 11 United, 11 TWA, 9 Bonanza and 3 Pacific. The first jet flights were United 720s in September 1960.
A Gates and rotunda area with slot machines in 2007
Airport officials began planning a new passenger terminal; the original terminal was on Las Vegas Boulevard, and the new one 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 renamed McCarran International Airport in September 1968. Further expansion took place between 1970 and 1974 with the construction of the A and B gates.
In response, the county launched an expansion plan, McCarran 2000, listing projects to be undertaken into the year 2000. Expanded baggage claim facilities, an esplanade, and a parking garage opened in 1985; the C Gates and the first line of the people mover system followed in 1987.
The Charter/International Terminal, later renamed Terminal 2, opened in December 1991 to handle international traffic. 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.
The finished D Gates in May 2009, with Terminal 3 under construction in the background
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.
New tower under construction, July 2013
In May 2011 construction began on a new air traffic control tower. The tower is 352 feet (107 m) tall and replaces a shorter tower that opened in 1983. 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, in anticipation of 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 a $51 million project, eight domestic gates in the D Gates are being converted to seven "swing" gates, capable of receiving both domestic and international flights. The gates will be connected to the customs facility in Terminal 3 by an underground pedestrian passageway. The project was completed in June 2017. In addition, a $30 million renovation of Terminal 1's ticketing and baggage claim areas is underway as of December 2016. Improvements include refurbished bathrooms, new ticket counters, and terrazzo flooring.
Runways and terminals at McCarran International Airport in 2017
Terminal 1, showing Concourses A and B. Concourse C extends to the right, out of view in 2011.
ILS Category I, with DME Second longest civil runway in North America
10,525 ft 3,208 m
150 ft 46 m
ILS Category I
All runways have been resurfaced with concrete, a more durable material than the previous asphalt. In April 2016, 8L/26R was the last runway to be resurfaced; it is the longest at McCarran and serves a third of the airport's traffic. Parallel to it is runway 8R/26L, which opened in 1991. On the western side of the airport are runways 1L/19R and 1R/19L. 1L/19R was a 5000-foot runway for light aircraft before it was widened and lengthened in 1997. Between the two sets of parallel runways was runway 14/32, which has been decommissioned.[a] Runways 8L/26R and 8R/26L were previously 7L/25R and 7R/25L. The runways were renumbered 8L/26R and 8R/26L in August 2017 due to a shift in the planet's magnetic poles by more than 3 degrees, the threshold for renumbering set by the FAA.
Dry weather at McCarran allows operations under visual flying rules 99% of the time. During most of the year (about 56% of the time) the airport uses Visual Configuration 1: runways 19R and 26L for arrivals and 19L and 26R for departures. Airfield capacity in Configuration 1 is constrained by bordering military airspace, high terrain to the west, and an uphill departure from 26R. Because of the heat, 26R is favored over 19L for departures. When the winds shift in the winter (about 13% of the year), the airfield adopts Visual Configuration 3, which uses 01L and 26L for arrivals and 01L and 01R for departures. Marginal flying conditions adopt the same Configuration 1/Configuration 3 split based on the prevailing winds. In instrument weather, arrivals are preferred on 26L, and departures take off from 19L and 26R.
There are two terminals at McCarran and 5 concourses with a total of 92 gates. Terminal 1 was completed in 1963, Terminal 2 was completed in 1986, and Terminal 3 was completed in 2012. Prior to the completion of Terminal 3, Terminal 2 handled international flights. After Terminal 3 was completed, Terminal 2 became redundant and it was demolished in 2016.
Terminal 1 opened on March 15, 1963, and was expanded between 1970 and 1974 with the current A and B Gates buildings. Currently, 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, which opened in 1998, 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.
Terminal 3 handles all international and some domestic flights. 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 on Level 2. The terminal has fourteen gates, seven 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. Passengers flying Air Canada, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and United Airlines all check-in and receive baggage at Terminal 3, but depart out of the D gates. The Red Line of the tram system links Terminal 3 with the D Gates.
A small parking lot on the south side of the airport, on E. Sunset Road, between Las Vegas Blvd., and S. Eastern Ave, allows the public to watch aircraft take off, land, and listen to the aircraft radios. This is the only "official" watching area. There are several unofficial areas, mainly off the ends of the runways, however they are heavily patrolled by Las Vegas Metro Police and spectators are commonly asked to leave.
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.
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.
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.
Accidents and incidents
On the evening of November 15, 1964, Bonanza Air Lines Flight 114, a Fairchild F-27 turboprop flying from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to McCarran Int'l Airport crashed into the top of a hill in desert country about 10 miles SSW of Las Vegas in poor weather conditions, all 26 passengers and three crew perished. The probable cause was the misreading of a faulty, outdated approach chart by the captain which resulted in a premature descent before impacting terrain.
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.
A shuttle about to depart Terminal 1 for the rental car center in 2010
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.
For transportation between Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, McCarran Airport provides a free shuttle service, which leaves from Level 0 of both terminals.
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. The expressway plan was cancelled December 2017, with businesses and residential property owners worried about lower property values, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas expressing concern about the visual impact.
Previously, there had been plans to extend the monorail system which connects many of the major area hotels and the Las Vegas Convention Center 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 million 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.
^The runway appears in Jeppesen charts from 1955 and 1966; it closed about 1973.