Las Vegas Eyes Second Major Airport to Open 2037

Posted on: February 6, 2023, 03:38h. 

Last updated on: February 7, 2023, 11:11h.

Harry Reid International Airport hosted a record high of 52.6 million passengers in 2022, according to figures it released on Monday. That shatters its previous record of 51.5 million, set in 2019, representing nearly 13 million more travelers and a 32.6 percent increase over 2021.

SNSA location
The lighter patch of desert at the center of this photo is the site of the future Southern Nevada Supplemental Airport. It is expected to open in 2037, 30 miles south of Las Vegas, to ease congestion at Harry Reid International. (Image: Google Earth)

Here’s the bad news – it leaves only 10 million-12 million more passengers before Las Vegas’ only major airport reaches its capacity. That’s expected to happen around 2030.

We feel that we’re going to start getting hit with delays on the airfield by the end of 2029 or maybe by 2030,” Clark County director of aviation Vassiliadis recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Unfortunately, it means painful years for airlines and that we need a second commercial airport.”

And that’s why plans are once again underway for the Southern Nevada Supplemental Airport (SNSA). First proposed as the Ivanpah Valley Airport in 1998, it is slated for 6,500 acres of former Bureau of Land Management desert 30 miles south of Las Vegas between the towns of Jean and Primm. It will host up to 35 million travelers per year.

A Familiar Story

Environmental studies are nearly complete, and airspace studies are continuing. During Nevada’s current legislative session – which began Monday and runs through June 6 – Clark County will reportedly seek state approval to begin its design work.

The Clark County Department of Aviation officially acquired the land in 2004, hoping to start construction in 2010 and open SNSA in 2017. After the 2008 recession decreased Las Vegas airport traffic, the need for an overflow airport waned, and the plan was put on hold in June 2010.

The opening of Terminal 3 in 2012 let additional steam out of the valve, increasing annual capacity at the former McCarran International Airport by another 8 million-10 million per year.

How Much and Who’s Paying?

SNSA was last budgeted at $4 billion, but that was in 2005 dollars. Whatever the new current projected cost, federal funding could be facilitated by appointment last month of Nevada’s 2nd US House District Rep., Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, as chairman of the US House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee.

The budget will also need to include some money to help build an $8 billion high-speed rail service between Las Vegas and Southern California. Thirty miles south of Las Vegas can be a lot longer than 30 minutes during peak travel times, so a high-speed rail station is essential for the new airport’s success.

The most favored train plan in recent years is from Brightline, which already runs a high-speed rail between Miami and West Palm Beach in Florida. Its plan would connect Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif., 190 miles southwest, via 200 mph passenger trains.

Brightline is already talking with airport planners, according to the R-J.

Did Clark County Wait Too Long?

Airports can’t be built overnight. In fact, the earliest SNSA could possibly come online is now 2037, according to Vassiliadis. So what happens during the seven years after Harry Reid reaches peak capacity but before SNSA can open?

Vassiliadis said she has several strategies in mind to lessen the impact, many of which can and should be implemented as soon as possible. The question is how to get the airlines on board. One strategy, called “smoothing the peaks,” calls for more flights during what is now considered off-peak flying times.

Another strategy is to encourage airlines to fly larger airplanes since airport capacity refers to the maximum number of flights, not people, that can fit. To this end, Southwest is currently upgrading much of its Las Vegas fleet from planes holding 140 passengers each to 170, which should help a bit.

Finally, Vassiliadis said Harry Reid Airport must divert some of its private jets to Henderson Executive Airport or North Las Vegas Airport. The rate of private air traffic has increased dramatically since Allegiant Stadium opened its doors to the public to watch Las Vegas Raiders games in 2021. It is expected to reach set a new high in the week leading up to the Formula 1 Grand Prix race on November 18.