KANSAS CITY — Earlier this year, Randall ‘Randy’ H. Walker, director of aviation for the Clark County Department of Aviation, was given a raise to keep him from resigning and moving into the consultant community. He likes Vegas — a native, he points out. At this year’s annual convention of the Airports Council International-North America, Walker was named the association’s chairman. He sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss the issues, both his in Las Vegas and national. Funding, at this writing and at the time of the interview, remained a moving target. Edited excerpts ...
AIRPORT BUSINESS: What’s the latest with the Las Vegas airport system?
Walker: We are working on a second airport site, which is tenatively called the Ivanpah site because that’s the name of the valley where we own the land. We’ve got close to 20,000 hotel rooms under construction, and another 20,000 that are probable. If all of those are built, that will exceed the capacity of the airport. To fill those hotel rooms, with the existing operating and ATC procedures and technology, we don’t have the capacity. We’re hoping, of course, with NextGen and the congestion management things that people are working on that we’ll get an improvement to that airspace and actually put more people through our airfield.
AB: What’s the status of the Ivanpah airport?
Walker: We’re in the environmental stage; we’re almost two years into the EIS. We have been working on the concept of a second airport for 12 years. We predict that if everything goes to plan we could have an airport operational by 2017. So, you’re talking over 20 years in this country to get a new airport online.
AB: What would happen to McCarran International?
Walker: McCarran would stay. It’s not like a Denver situation. Last year we did 46.2 million passengers; this new airport at its ultimate build-out could handle about 35 million. It’s a second airport.
AB: While getting through McCarran as a passenger can be trying at times, it is still quite impressive how you are able to reasonably flow the onslaught of people.
Walker: We have taken a lot of control with what happens. We’re a turnkey airport; we own everything — the ticket counters; the computers in the ticket counters; the furniture in the hold rooms; the jet bridges; the gate podium. The communications system is ours — everybody runs off our backbone. We’ve done that because we’ve determined that that is the most efficient way of maximizing utilization of our facilities.
AB: How much of that has to do with the fact that you do things with the revenue you get from slots?
Walker: Well, we’re financially a very stable airport. But I would [like] to have the parking revenue that other airports have.
AB: I’ve heard you talk of not wanting the Airbus A380 at McCarran. Will it be part of the Ivanpah plan?
Walker: Absolutely; we would design the airport for Group 6 aircraft. Since that airport is further away from town, we think the natural fit is the longer-haul traffic.
The problem we have with the A380 is, first, we’re not a very large aircraft market. Our airfield is not really designed to accommodate an A380 efficiently; it would be very disruptive.
I’m more excited about the 787 — a smaller, long-haul aircraft that can go to secondary markets. No longer is an airport like Las Vegas dependent upon a major hub to get customers from the East Coast.
AB: Requir-ing 100 percent screening of airport employees is a hot issue in Washington. Is your airport part of the pilot program to study the feasibility?
Walker: No. I’m not convinced that employee screening is the answer. At some level it’s important, and we do it at levels. I think that if we do employee screening and think that’s it, we’re taking a step backwards.
AB: One criticism of the idea is that it could make the screening process predictable. Your thoughts?