Southwest Airlines talking big expansion in Vegas, state official says

Southwest Airlines is discussing an expansion of operations in Las Vegas, said Terry Reynolds, director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry.

Southwest Airlines is discussing an expansion of operations in Las Vegas, said Terry Reynolds, director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry. AdobeStock

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Southwest Airlines, the busiest commercial air carrier at Harry Reid International Airport, is considering “an incredible expansion” of flights in and out of Las Vegas, a leading state official said Thursday on Nevada Newsmakers.

“Four months ago, we talked to Southwest Airlines and I know they are looking at an incredible expansion on the number of flights that they have coming into Las Vegas, in the hundreds-of-thousands range,” said Terry Reynolds, director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry.

“That's on an annual basis but still they are going to be moving more staff into the Las Vegas area,” Reynolds told host Sam Shad. “They have one of their chief executive officers who lives in Las Vegas, so they are looking at a major development and major increase in their traffic over the next couple of years.”

Reynolds' revelation comes after a late September announcement by Southwest that the Dallas-based carrier plans to have 243 daily departures from Las Vegas beginning in March, in part, to better help transport the thousands of visitors who come to Las Vegas for “March Madness” or the various college basketball tournaments at arenas across the city.

More than 3,700 people already work for the airline in Las Vegas, which is the home of pilot and crew bases, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Southwest plans to expand in Las Vegas sooner than later, Reynolds said.

“We asked if that (expansion) was five years out and they said, ‘No, we're going to start within the next year or year and a half,’” he said.

Reynolds sees Southwest’s moves impacting other airlines at Harry Reid International.

“So it (Southwest’s planning) is here now and with their lead, I think you will see other airlines looking at their air traffic and an increase of flights coming in and out of Las Vegas.”

The expansions by Southwest and others at Harry Reid International should also push the development of the Southern Nevada Supplemental Airport in the Ivanpah Valley, Reynolds said.

That commercial airport has been proposed by the Clark County Aviation Department and Federal Aviation Administration and would be built on 6,000 acres of undeveloped federal land in the Ivanpah Valley, more than 30 miles south of Las Vegas on Interstate 15.

The Ivanpah airport was an idea with momentum in the early 2000s before a recession and drop in tourism, according to the Review-Journal. Reynolds sees the need for the Ivanpah airport in the near-future because Harry Reid International will soon reach a limit to expansion.

“As you see the expansion of McCarran (Harry Reid International) and that there is going to be limits to that, and I think we are going to see those limits happen in the next couple of years. They are going have to go out and start the development of Ivanpah,” Reynolds said.

Harry Reid International welcomed 5.2 million passengers in October, marking the first time surpassing the 5-million-a-month passenger plateau, according to the Clark County Department of Aviation. Numbers like that may spur action on Ivanpah, Reynolds said.

“So it has really been kind of a wait-and-see (on Ivanpah) because the airline traffic was down considerably during the pandemic,” he said. “It came up during the end of the recession and it went back down again in '20, '21.

“(Now) They've come back,” Reynolds said. “I think they have reached the point where they have 5-million visitors back into the airport and that's an all-time high for them. After the break in the recession, they were going back up to around 4, 4.3, 4.4 (million). Well now, it's over 5 (million) and that is signaling the fact that they are going to get to capacity pretty quickly.”

Shad noted that Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said on Nevada Newsmakers that the Ivanpah airport would be a reality before she was termed out of office, which is about nine years away.

Reynolds agreed with Kirkpatrick's assessment.

“I would say so, I think things are starting to accelerate right now,” Reynolds said. “We are really going to have to do something, so I would venture to say she is correct. It probably going to be a seven to nine-year time frame.”


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