Las Vegas is called the 'Desert Aspen'

 - September 26, 2006, 6:47 AM

It you’re flying to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS), a word to the wise–call ahead.

Bill Bailey, a chief pilot based at LAS, calls the facility “the desert Aspen,” and warns that overcrowding at selected times could generate draconian traffic measures– possibly special traffic management procedures (STMPs) similar to those used at ski-country airports during their high season. Unlike the mountain airports with their notoriously unpredictable weather, it’s not clogged airways and instrument approaches that are the problem at sunny LAS. Rather, it’s cramped ramps and taxiways. And there’s not much that can be done about it.

Keith Gordon, the business aviation representative on the KLAS users’ council, flies a Falcon 20 for Bailey, and he painted a grim picture of snarled ramps and taxiways on “Black Tuesday” during last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the largest conventions in the world. Gordon told AIN, “During the CES week, fewer than 25 percent of the business jets arriving at the airport had notified either of the two FBOs in advance that they were inbound. The result was, first, Atlantic closed its ramp to incoming traffic, followed shortly by Signature. Jets were stacked up on the taxiway parallel to Runway 19, which eventually closed the runway to airline traffic since they were unable to cross to the terminal. It was a mess.”

As a result, the FAA will issue notams during certain high-volume events in the Glitter City to the effect that if crews do not have a reservation with one of the FBOs for parking, they could be turned away by ATC–diverted to North Las Vegas Airport, Henderson or even to facilities as far away as California.

“No one wants an STMP in Vegas,” said Gordon, “so the FAA hopes this voluntary program will work. Otherwise, we may be moving to some form of prior-permission system.” He added that the airport traffic manager holds regular conferences with the airport’s FBOs, hotels, convention centers and other facilities to try to predict high levels of general aviation traffic. Voluntary advance notification by aircraft operators is one of the best ways to handle peak traffic times. According to Gordon, 30 percent of the traffic at LAS is general aviation.