Photo: John Locher/AP
A plane takes off from McCarran International Airport on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS — New air traffic patterns are going into effect in Southern Nevada as part of a switch to satellite navigational guides in what the Federal Aviation Administration calls its "NextGen" modernization to improve efficiency and safety.
Beginning Thursday, some flight patterns will change for arriving and departing aircraft in an area including McCarran International Airport, two busy Las Vegas-area general aviation airports and Nellis Air Force Base.
The air space around McCarran becomes the 10th of 11 so-called FAA "metroplex" areas around the country to enact next-generation traffic patterns, agency spokesman Ian Gregor said Tuesday.
Using satellite technology replaces decades-old ground-based navigation systems and beacons, Gregor said.
Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Northern California, Southern California and Washington are among others metropolitan areas where the agency has revised flight paths under the program. The agency plans later this year to implement a metroplex air traffic plan around 21 airports in central and southern Florida.
McCarran, located adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip, is in the process of being renamed after former Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. It handled a record 51.5 million passengers in 2019, mostly tourists, and ranked as the ninth-busiest passenger airport in the U.S.
Current flight routes are safe, the FAA said. But revised takeoff and landing paths were designed to be more efficient, while separating McCarran, North Las Vegas and Henderson Executive airport traffic, reducing airline fuel costs and pollution, and improving communication between pilots and air traffic controllers.
The FAA also cites air traffic challenges posed by mountainous terrain around Las Vegas and large blocks of restricted military airspace over central Nevada. The revisions received several years of study.
Flight path changes have drawn safety and noise complaints in other cities, including Phoenix, where residents of historic neighborhoods won a court fight and the FAA in 2017 changed some Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport departure routes.
In Las Vegas, court fights more than a decade ago over a McCarran flight pattern dubbed the "right turn" ended with a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2009. The court decided the FAA did not arbitrarily or capriciously design the departure path over the suburban Summerlin neighborhood.