McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, has been undergoing major expansion and upgrading projects during the past 20 years, since their master plan improvement programme was first instigated in 1981.

The master plan has included upgrade and expansion of terminals, construction of two new concourses with the addition of 40 gates, two runway expansions and a brand new parallel runway, multilevel parking facilities and the provision of more than 9,000 new parking spaces, new landside roadways, freeways, tunnels, bridges and utility systems, plus the design and construction of a new people-moving automated transit system (ATS).

“Every 10,000 new hotel rooms in the city means an extra 3.2 million visitors a year.”

The improvements are likely to cost more than $4bn before the programme is completed. Between 1981 and 2005 the airport tripled in size. The airport is managed and operated by the Clark County Department of Aviation (CCDOA).

The improvements have been carried out in logical phases to allow the airport to continue its day to day running. It handled more than 41.4 million passengers in 2011. The number of passengers is expected to rise to more than 53 million a year by the time all the improvements have been incorporated in 2012.

The master plan has only had one major delay during the programme and this was the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, which had an effect of delaying work by two years. In late 2003 the work was continued and is still ongoing. The airport is the tenth busiest in the world and needs to constantly keep abreast of new technology and improvements, because of increasing passenger numbers, as Las Vegas is an increasingly expanding and popular resort.

Every 10,000 new hotel rooms in the city means an extra 3.2 million visitors a year. It was anticipated that between 2006 and 2010 there would be an extra 41,000 hotel and condo rooms completed in Las Vegas, so the airport needs to expand its capacity accordingly.

Earlier McCarran project completions

  • Extended runway 07L/25R – the third longest civilian runway in the country
  • Runway 07R/25L – constructed / extended to more than 10,000ft
  • Reconstructed runway 01L/19R – to accommodate air carrier operations
  • Terminal 2 – remodelling of charter and international terminal
  • C gates renovation – added four gates
  • 6,000+ space parking garage – construction
  • Bag claim and ticketing – expansions
  • 26-gate D concourse – satellite concourse linked to terminal 1
  • Airport connector roadway and tunnel – freeway access via I-215 and I-15
  • Air cargo ramp and buildings – developed with the aid of a third party
  • North Las Vegas Airport – terminal building, runways and aircraft parking area

Projects and construction projects at the US-based international airport

The phase IV upgrade / expansion programme was continued in 2003 and was estimated to require approximately $90m to be completed. The major projects included in this programme were a new ground traffic control tower and an eight-gate expansion to the satellite D concourse (eight gates added to the existing 36). The D concourse was a major part of the programme requiring, an estimated $50m of the budget while the remaining $40m was for the other projects, including the ground traffic control tower and the expansion of the runway apron.

General contractor for the project was Sletten of Nevada, and the construction manager was Bechtel Infrastructure Inc of San Francisco. The original architect of the D concourse was Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects – the same architect was retained for the new expansion. PBS&J Engineering was responsible for the site work and engineering services for the satellite D concourse.

The project consisted of aircraft parking aprons for the first 28 aircraft parking positions at the new terminal concourse and remote aircraft parking positions associated with the airport expansion. The satellite apron included an east-west apron edge taxiway and several taxi-lanes, which provide aircraft access to phase one aircraft parking positions, as well as the ultimate aircraft parking positions. PBS&J provided comprehensive engineering services for the Satellite ‘D’ expansion project.

The whole project was completed in the first quarter of 2008 and included a two-level, 197,000ft² north-east wing addition to the D concourse, plus a 167ft tall ground traffic control tower (completed in 2005). The fan-shaped, 60ft-tall and 550ft-long expansion has a seating capacity of 1,276. The new wing has given McCarran a total of 104 boarding gates, enabling it to process another five million passengers annually.

In 2007 a project was also completed to build 12 new security lanes for the C gates. This was encompassed in an 80,000ft² two-storey extension which also includes a pedestrian bridge giving access for the southern areas of the airport.

Concourse expansion details at the major Nevada-based airport

The post-modern steel-framed and glazed structure – a cable-tensioned glass curtain wall – houses airport operations, including mechanical and electrical functions, on the ground level. Passenger boarding gates, restaurants and retail stands are situated on the upper level. The construction required 2,135t of steel and 11,400yd³ of concrete. The exterior of the building was clad with pre-finished aluminium panels and four foot sunshade louvres to lower cooling costs due to solar gain.

Features of the new concourse expansion include a central pyramid-shaped skylight atrium that allows indirect light to filter through the interior. Also, pieces of decorative glass inserted into five, 86ft long quad-chord atriums with metal-pipe roof trusses will act as prisms and refract different shades of light into the building. The concourse also includes a new large retail store, a bar, a concession stand, three smaller retail outlets and two kiosk vendors.

Ground traffic control tower and apron expansion at McCarran airport

The new 167ft ground traffic control tower was completed by early 2005. The tower consists of a 50ft diameter by 50ft tall glass cylinder pod, which allows an uninterrupted 360° view that is constructed on two supporting 14ft × 36ft legs.

One leg contains lifts for access to the observation level, while the other leg contains emergency stairs. At the base of the tower, there is a single level, 2,200ft² airline club. The steel-framed tower is clad in matching pre-finished aluminium panels and glazing to the D concourse expansion.

The site work included a terminal apron drainage system capable of capturing, conveying, and segregating contaminated storm-water runoff, plus a storm-water collection and detention system designed to reduce peak flows into the municipal system.

The aircraft fuelling system extended the existing hydrant fuelling system to provide hydrant-fuelling capability at all 28 aircraft parking positions. Design of the airfield electrical system and signage included centre-line lights, pavement edge lights, as well as guidance signing in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) criteria and McCarran airfield lighting / signage standards.

PBS&J provided all utility design services, including sanitary sewers, water lines (domestic and fire) and a natural gas line, and coordinated the location of a new electrical distribution facility, electrical supply loop and telephone communication facilities. Major project sub-consultants included DMJM Aviation, Aircraft Fueling Systems and IMDC.

Baggage handling upgrades at McCarran International Airport

In June 2004 FKI Logistex was awarded the contract for second and third phases of baggage handling screening and sorting system at McCarran airport.

“McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, has been undergoing major expansion and upgrading projects during the past 20 years, since their master plan improvement programme was first instigated in 1981.”

Flagship Construction, Inc was awarded the contract for the 100% hold baggage screening (HBS), radio frequency identification (RFID) baggage tracking, baggage sorting and inline explosives detection system. The two contracts were estimated at $38m.

Earlier in 2004 FKI Logistex were also awarded the first phase contract. FKI Logistex supplied engineering, mechanical hardware, software, installation, training and testing for all three phases of the project. The three contracts total approximately $50m.

The new system couples the latest baggage screening equipment with the accuracy and efficiency of RFID baggage sorting. McCarran is one of the first airports in the world to use ultra-high-frequency (UHF) RFID embedded baggage tags, for 100% of the auto-ID and tracking of all outbound baggage in the sorting and explosive detection process. There are 70 RFID readers and four miles of conveyor belt behind the scenes.

Phase two, involving international terminal 2, started in August 2004 and was fully commissioned by the winter. Terminal 2 was modified during the process to create additional space to house 274 new conveyor drives and seven new eXaminer 3DX 6000 EDS (electronic data system) machines from L-3 Communications. Phase two also features more than 3,200ft of conveyor and three FKI Logistex Maxiclaim II sloped-plate make-up units.

Phase three, covering the rest of terminal 1, was scheduled to be commissioned in mid-2007. With nearly 1,200 conveyor drives and more than 12,500ft of conveyor, phase three represents the largest phase and includes remodelling of the existing terminal structure to house the two new security screening matrices and sorting areas. The car rental area of terminal one was reconfigured to form a new central baggage claim area, with eight out of the 16 carousels doubled in size allowing five flights to be handled at one time.

Phase three has also added 21 eXaminer 3DX 6000 EDS units to the project for a total of 42 machines. As baggage size tolerances have become more critical, the inline security system features sophisticated dimensioning devices that calculate 3D geometries of all the baggage before they enter the security screening process.

Phase three will also include 49 RFID scanner arrays for baggage identification which, in tandem with FKI Logistex’s track-and-trace technology, will pass identification information through the system to the security screening matrices. This information will then be processed in the EDS system to continue the identification of the luggage and its security status. After passing through the EDS machines, the FKI track-and-trace technology sorts the baggage to one of 27 sort locations which include ten Maxiclaim II slope plate make-up units.

The entire system will be controlled by FKI Logistex’s state-of-the-art supervisory control system featuring a web-based graphical user interface, the FKI Logistex sort allocation computer (SAC) system.

Car rental facilities and new terminal 3 at the busy airport serving Las Vegas

The 110,000ft² two-storey consolidated car rental facility opened on a 68-acre site just south of the airport in late 2006, leaving the old car rental area in terminal one to form a new central baggage area.

The car rental facility also has a three-storey parking garage that can hold 5,000 vehicles. The facility cost $123m and has helped to save space at the main airport site, with the airport offering a free shuttle service for passengers who are renting cars.

In July 2008 McCarran International announced the winning bidder for the new 174,000m² terminal 3 (T3) construction project. Construction of the $2.4bn T3, was 44% complete by October 2009 and is expected to open in June 2012. Perini Building Co was awarded a $1.2bn contract for the construction of the T3.

The construction work began in January 2009 and the terminal has 14 gates in total with eight for domestic traffic and six swing gates for international flights. T3 will be self contained with its own central plant facilities, roadways, eight-level parking garage, ticket counters, baggage claim areas and an 83,000ft² concession area. The new terminal will have an automated underground tram to connect it to the D Concourse, which is 950ft away. The construction of T3 roadways was contracted to Las Vegas Paving in 2008.

Additional capacity at the McCarran International Airport will now be difficult to achieve without purchasing additional land for a new runway (costs of more than $1bn and also concurrent environmental and social hurdles) and plans are afoot to build a new airport 25 miles south of the city, called Ivanpah. The new airport would have a capacity of 35 million and is expected to open by 2017.

Technology incorporated at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport

McCarran International is never slow to try new technology and has introduced 38 body scanners at the airport to scan random passengers and show images of what is beneath their clothes. More than ten airports are introducing the system in the US.

In addition McCarran introduced mobile phone vending machines, where a passenger can purchase by credit card a fully charged activated mobile for immediate use. This project was implemented in conjunction with Automated Vending Technologies and 011 Mobile in October 2007.

In September 2009 US Customs and Border Protection installed devices for scanning facial features and fingerprints at terminal 2. The devices were installed as part of a pilot programme which aims to expedite legal permanent residents of the US.