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Viva Las VegasViva Las Vegas

"Heaven ain't Las Vegas, but I can think of somewhere worse." — U-Haul by Reneé Austin"For the first time last year, shows, restaurants, and motels brought in more than gambling." — Doug McNeeley, North Las Vegas Airport manager These quotes say a lot about Las Vegas. Some see it as the planet's primary party place; recent homebuyers regard their rapidly growing city of 545,147 residents as a sunny place to live, with a thriving economy.

"Heaven ain't Las Vegas, but I can think of somewhere worse." — U-Haul by Reneé Austin
"For the first time last year, shows, restaurants, and motels brought in more than gambling." — Doug McNeeley, North Las Vegas Airport manager

These quotes say a lot about Las Vegas. Some see it as the planet's primary party place; recent homebuyers regard their rapidly growing city of 545,147 residents as a sunny place to live, with a thriving economy. For vacationers it can mean anything from a never-before-experienced chance to get a little naughty, to the only place in the United States where gambling, golf, sunshine, and 24-hour action mix with unique opportunities such as a chance to view 22 of Claude Monet's light-filled examples of impressionistic art. Where else is all this possible?

Many regard Las Vegas as the West Coast go-to place for the best in entertainment, dining, and resort living. Others spend their days hiking the many trails in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area or playing on the waters of nearby Lake Mead before repairing to Vegas for great food and shows.

To begin to get a grip on all that can be seen and experienced in and around Las Vegas, go online. McCarran International Airport is the big airport — surrounded by Class B airspace — located at the south end of "The Strip." The passenger count in 2005 rose to 44.3 million. Fortunately for general aviation fly-in visitors there are two very good airports located close by. Henderson is south of town, and North Las Vegas is well, north of The Strip. Both of these airports sit under the Las Vegas Class B airspace. A current Las Vegas Terminal Area Chart depicts VFR flyway routing and altitudes that will keep VFR pilots clear of Class B airspace. However, the Las Vegas approach and departure controllers provide excellent service, so there's no reason not to contact them for help. They ask only that first-time fly-in visitors study the terminal area chart to familiarize themselves with local landmarks and VFR reporting points.

Henderson Executive Airport in the south

Arby Alpert opened the Sky Harbor airport, located 11 miles south of McCarran International, in 1967. Clark County bought the airport in 1996 and renamed it Henderson Executive Airport. A new parallel runway was finished in 2002 and a new terminal building opened in July 2006. By the time you read this a huge new ramp and a self-service fuel island will be completed to handle the ever-increasing number of fly-in visitors.

Henderson has two parallel runways. The shortest — 17L/35R — stretches out 5,001 feet and is 75 feet wide. Las Vegas Approach Control typically directs Henderson-bound pilots arriving from the west to fly to Jean Airport before proceeding inbound to Henderson by flying parallel to the east side of Interstate 15.

Flying into and out of the Henderson airport is quick and easy. And there should be an airport restaurant opening in the terminal building by mid-2007, if all goes according to plan.

There is a free shuttle service from the airport to hotels on The Strip that departs every two hours beginning at 10 a.m. until the final shuttle at 6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and Saturday, and every two hours beginning at 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Friday and Sunday. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has an office in the terminal. It costs almost as much for a one-way taxi ride to The Strip as a one-day car rental, so plan accordingly.

For more information on the Henderson Executive Airport, visit the Web site.

North Las Vegas Airport

North Las Vegas Airport is located eight miles north of the Las Vegas VOR and McCarran International. North Las Vegas has three runways. Runways 12R/30L and 12L/30R are parallel and Runway 7/25 cuts across the approach end of 12R.

Like Henderson, this airport is very fly-in-visitor friendly. Unlike Henderson, there is extensive training activity taking place, but it isn't too big a deal since there are parallel runways with one used for normal takeoff and landing traffic while the students operate off the other.

According to Doug McNeeley, the manager of Las Vegas' general aviation airports — and who was a 1998 recipient of AOPA's Max Karant Awards for Excellence in Aviation Journalism for his Hangar Flying Today piece when at WINX radio — North Las Vegas is the "Chicago O'Hare of general aviation airports," having logged more than 231,000 operations in 2005. Because of the high traffic count and the intersecting runways, an enhanced airport lighting project has been implemented at 29 intersections on the North Las Vegas airport.

These above-ground pulsing lights — three of the 29 intersections also have in-pavement guard lights — provide visual cues on when to hold short of and when to cross critical intersections. Pilots flying into North Las Vegas are urged to use a taxi diagram ( download one from AOPA's Airport Directory) as an aid to complying with taxi instructions. Accidentally crossing Runway 12R from Taxiway A and taxiing across the ends of Runways 7 and 12R without clearance are common taxiing mistakes at VGT.

Leonard's Airport Cafe is located upstairs in the terminal building and features specialties such as the NTSB — a hot pastrami sandwich — and the Tri Motor, which is a giant club sandwich.

North Las Vegas also boasts a free shuttle service into downtown casino hotels that runs on the same schedule as the Henderson shuttle service.

Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis Air Force Base is located eight miles east of North Las Vegas Airport. An advisory letter was written earlier this year calling attention to the fact that there have been 19 intrusions into the expansive area of restricted airspace — reputed to shelter super-secret Area 51 — that covers large areas to the north and northwest of Las Vegas. The letter emphasizes that most of the intrusions are committed by VFR pilots flying into and out of North Las Vegas using the U.S. 95 Beatty/Tonopah corridor. Remaining well west of U.S. 95 will keep airplanes clear of the restricted airspace. The letter also states that failure to heed these simple directions will result in intercept procedures.

There also is a V-shape wedge of alert-designated airspace radiating to the west of Nellis. Military pilots fly high-speed climbs and descents in and out of Nellis in this airspace. Pilots must stay below A-481 to avoid the possibility of a midair collision.

Boulder City airport

Boulder City Municipal Airport is located 18 miles southwest of McCarran and should be considered a destination airport for fliers arriving from the east. There are two runways (15/33 and 9R/27L) available. The preferred runway is 27L, which measures 4,800 feet long. Visiting pilots need to remain clear of Runway 9L/27R — it's reserved for glider traffic. This is a nontowered airport with a lot of air-tour, glider, and skydiving activity, so monitor the CTAF (122.7) when approaching the airport.

Las Vegas has something for every visitor, and it takes weeks to learn to appreciate this exciting and diverse city.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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