Historically, commercial aviation has played a critical role in the growth and development of Las Vegas as a world-class tourist destination. With more than 35 domestic and international airlines ushering 40 million passengers annually through McCarran International Airport's gates, Las Vegas has become a globally competitive air travel destination.
The airport and airlines annually have a direct and indirect economic impact of more than $30 billion. In order to attain global status, commercial aviation in Southern Nevada had to achieve some firsts.
1. Air Mail
On April 17, 1926, Western Air Express pilot Maury Graham delivered one of the first bags of mail to Rockwell Field.Graham flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in his Douglas M-2, which took 2 hours and 20 minutes. Minutes later, Western Air Express pilot Jimmy James arrived with a bag of mail from Salt Lake City. He too flew a Douglas M-2, and his flight took 5 hours and 20 minutes. It was an historic day because the dusty, isolated, desert town of Las Vegas appeared on the national Transcontinental Airmail Route map.
2. First Passengers
A little more than a month later, on May 23, 1926, the first passengers arrived in Las Vegas. A.B. DeNault, vice president of the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, and Charles Kerr, president of the Los Angeles Automobile Insurance Company deplaned the Douglas M-2 to be greeted by Harris M. "Pop" Hanshue, president of Western Air Express. That same day, Ben Redman, chairman of the Aviation Committee of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, and John A. Tomlinson, a businessman in Salt Lake City, arrived in Las Vegas and also were greeted by Hanshue. The arrival of these first passengers signified what would become a major industry that was vital to the growth and development of Las Vegas.
3. The First Jet
The arrival of the first jet, a United Airlines Boeing 720B, happened on Feb. 12, 1960. The arrival of this passenger jet signified a new era for aviation in Las Vegas, the country, and the world. By bringing jets to Las Vegas, airlines discovered they could carry more passengers from greater distances and become more competitive in a rapidly growing global air travel market. When the plane arrived, United Airlines officials met Airport Director Gordon Miles, and took him on a 30-minute flight over the Grand Canyon. Upon returning to McCarran Airport, Miles said he was excited for the jet, but preparing McCarran for its arrival "was a bit of a circus." Within a decade, more jets were landing at McCarran Airport than propeller-driven planes. Today, jets predominantly serve McCarran Airport flying to domestic and international destinations.
4. The Concorde
On March 4, 1987, an Air France Concorde landed at McCarran Airport. The supersonic transport plane, which traveled at a speed of 1,350 miles per hour, arrived from Honolulu as part of a "Round the World Tour" put on by Goodwood Travel. For $985, passengers could board the plane and enjoy a two-hour flight over the Pacific Ocean before returning to McCarran Airport. In 2003, Air France and British Airways grounded all of their Concorde planes following the investigation of the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde on takeoff from Charles de Gaulle International Airport headed for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The aircraft caught fire on takeoff, and along with the exorbitant cost of flying on the Concorde ($10,000-$15,000), brought an end to the supersonic transport era.
5. Global Flights
While McCarran Airport changed its name to McCarran International Airport in 1968, it really became an international airport around the turn of this century.In 1998, Northwest Airlines (which later merged with Delta Airlines) was the first airline to offer flights from McCarran to Tokyo. One year later, Japan Airlines began offering direct, nonstop flights from Tokyo to Las Vegas. Condor Airlines was the first airline to offer service to Europe, specifically Frankfurt, Germany. Currently, more than a dozen airlines offer service to global destinations including London, Seoul, Toronto, Mexico City, and Panama. More international airlines such as AirEuropa, Air Transat, Thomas Cook, Air Canada Rouge, and Contigo are planning to offer service to McCarran from Madrid, Glasgow, Guadalajara, Montreal, and other global cities. With these new carriers, the international air traveler volume certainly will exceed its current volume of 1.4 million, the highest it has ever been.