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August 20, 2019

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McCarran’s new Terminal 3 begins ascent, but it almost wasn’t to be

Terminal 3 Preview

Sam Morris

McCarran’s new Terminal 3 is seen Saturday, June 2, 2012.

McCarran Airport Terminal 3 grand opening

KSNV reports that McCarran Airport Terminal 3 will open for business on Wednesday, reported on June 26.

Terminal 3 Open House

A family strolls in the E Gate area during an open house at the new Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 9, 2012. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attends the groundbreaking ceremony of the new USO lounge in Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport on Wednesday, August 18, 2010.

Sen. Harry Reid hasn’t seen the inside of McCarran International Airport’s new Terminal 3 yet.

But if it weren’t for some of his political maneuvering during the Great Recession, there may not have been a Terminal 3 to see.

Reid applauded Clark County officials for their perseverance as the 14-gate, $2.4 billion facility opens its doors to international air traffic today.

Four flights will arrive today and the entire international schedule goes live on Thursday. That’s 115 flights a week from as near as Monterrey, Mexico, just more than 1,000 miles, to as far as Seoul, South Korea, nearly 6,000 miles.

Fifteen international air carriers are moving to T3 from the soon-to-be-razed Terminal 2, while a 16th carrier — Panama’s Copa Airlines — will begin flights between Las Vegas and Panama City as the newest carrier to McCarran.

The move of the international fliers to T3 is part of McCarran’s three-phase move-in that will occur over the next two months. Beginning July 31, five domestic air carriers — Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country and Virgin America — will move into T3. And, on Aug. 22, United and Hawaiian airlines will move their ticket counters and baggage claim to the new building, but fly from the D gates, which will be accessible through an underground tram line.

While T3 is the most comprehensive expansion in McCarran’s 64-year history, it almost didn’t come to be when the economy tanked.

When the financial crisis hit, the market for state and local government bonds, the interest of which is subject to the alternative minimum tax, was frozen. To ensure that capital improvement projects could continue, Congress considered the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide relief to state and local governments.

But in the original versions of the bills passed by the House and Senate, relief from the alternative minimum tax wouldn’t be available to bonds issued to refinance existing debt.

At the time, T3 financing consisted of short-term bond anticipation notes that Clark County planned to refinance with longer-term bonds.

McCarran's Terminal 3 Preview

The Las Vegas Strip can be seen Feb. 1, 2012, from McCarran International Airport's new Terminal 3. Launch slideshow »

That’s where Reid stepped in.

He was able to persuade the conference committee reconciling the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill to incorporate the needed tax relief.

The move saved $80 million in interest costs — a critical factor considering that the airport is supported by an enterprise fund that receives no tax revenue from Clark County’s general fund.

“Had that not been extended, T3 wouldn’t have gone forward,” Reid said. “And the new terminal was really needed. If you look at the old terminal, it was, at best, substandard. But T3 is going to be premium. It’s really nice and while I walked through the site when it was under construction, I can’t wait to see it later this summer.”

The international terminal facility upgrade comes at a perfect time for the airline that will be the first to arrive, London-based Virgin Atlantic. The airline overseen by flamboyant adventurer Richard Branson — a big fan of Las Vegas — is undertaking a major product upgrade.

“It’s a milestone product,” said Chris Rossi, senior vice president of Virgin’s North American operation.

“Our Boeing 747-400 fleet is being completely revamped and by August, every flight to and from Las Vegas will have the new features,” Rossi said. “That includes a new Panasonic entertainment system with all on-demand content and technology that will allow people to text and email through their own PDAs from the plane.”

Rossi said the airline is installing new seats in the economy and premium economy classes and it’s upgrading the meal product, which, on Virgin Atlantic, is a part of the ticket price.

“It’s all about enhancing the value of the service,” Rossi said.

Virgin Atlantic has been gradually growing in the Las Vegas market, Rossi said, as more British expatriots take up residence in Southern Nevada. Virgin also became the first overseas carrier to have nonstop flights to multiple destinations from McCarran when it began twice-weekly flights to and from Manchester, England, 14 months ago. The airline inaugurated service in Las Vegas with twice-weekly flights to and from London’s Gatwick International Airport in June 2000. Since then, the London service has expanded to daily flights.

Virgin Atlantic’s presence at T3 could help it develop connectivity with Virgin America, which will be in the same terminal, but the domestic airline has a limited Las Vegas schedule to San Francisco and New York, both already served by Virgin Atlantic.

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