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Economy & Business | Local Government

Changing the name of McCarran International Airport will take months

A nearly empty baggage claim at McCarran International Airport on May 15, 2020. Photo by Jeff Scheid,

It will take months for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the recently approved name change of McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport.

“We must complete some administrative tasks before we officially recognize any name change,” said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA’s Western Pacific Region, which has authority over Nevada’s airports. 

“These include processing the name change to ensure proper tracking of federal grant-agreement obligations, as well as revising the Airport Master Record and air traffic control maps to reflect the name change,” Gregor continued.

The tasks generally “take a matter of months” to complete, Gregor said.

The FAA doesn’t regulate airport names but could raise a concern if there were any operational issues.

The first step is for the Clark County Department of Aviation to notify the FAA in writing of the county’s action. That includes providing the FAA with minutes of the Clark County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday when they voted to change the airport name. 

Joe Rajchel, a spokesman for the county’s aviation authority, said there was no timeframe for when the authority would send its formal letter notifying the FAA. Still, he noted that “we are working on that letter in anticipation of when those minutes become available.”

Clark County Director of Aviation Rosemary Vassiliadis also laid out some of the steps the FAA will take once it is informed of the change. 

“FAA does perform analysis to determine the impacts to their system and the documents, so they would look at the air traffic control maps, they’ll look at the airport certification manual, the airport layout plan and the airport security plan, the grant documents,” Vassiliadis told the commission before the vote.

“That's why this takes some time to really scale down to see everything that would need to be changed,” Vassiliadis added. 

Vassiliadis also said that the county would need to change its documents to include the new name; for example, bond portfolio documents will require the new name. She added that the county would also need to work with airlines and concessionaires to make any pertinent changes.   

Seth Lehman, an airports analyst with Fitch Ratings, which monitors some of Clark County’s debt, said it’s not unusual for airport authorities to use airports to honor prominent citizens. 

One recent example is when officials in Louisville, Kentucky in 2019 changed the name of the city’s airport to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport from Louisville International Airport.

The Louisville airport authority voted to change the name in January and unveiled a new sign in June, making the change official. 

The name change at McCarran shouldn’t affect revenues at the airport one way or the other, Lehman said.

“We don't look at it as something that has a material impact revenue-wise to an airport because it's not like where you rename sports stadiums or arenas, with a corporate sponsor that paid possibly tens of millions of dollars to have their name on their billboards and all the marketing materials," Lehman said. “Here, it's just more of an honorary approach.”

Lehman doesn't think that the politics involved in naming airports loom large in travelers' minds and that the airport is uniquely situated to serve Las Vegas.

“Anybody who wants to go into Las Vegas will use that airport, whether it's regionally or for long-haul travelers coming to the city,” Lehman said.

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