For many GA pilots, the allure of trips with friends for fun and adventure is a big reason to fly. For flyboys in the southwest, sunny Las Vegas can be the next step beyond that classic $100 hamburger! Only a few hours from the bustling airspace of Southern California, the Las Vegas terminal area offers impressive views from the air, including the Hoover Dam, astounding Red Rock Canyon, and of course the iconic Strip. Read on to learn the nuances of a trouble free day navigating our busy Bravo airspace, and how to set yourself up for a successful red carpet ride down the Strip! With a little luck and some pre-planning, you can fly abeam Las Vegas Boulevard, with a view to rival those spendy Heli-tours. Just remember to observe your clearance minimums as the Stratosphere looms in your windscreen before the entrance to the KVGT pattern!
For our exercise, we will be approaching Las Vegas from the south with a destination of KVGT North Las Vegas. Be sure you take a moment to look at the Las Vegas TAC and FLY charts to familiarize yourself with the local landmarks. You’ll want to be aware of The Ridge, Bank of America Bldg, and the Stratosphere (referred to as Monument on the chart, but as its namesake on the radios). Also, take note that there are heavy skydiving operations just south of Jean airport, east of Interstate 15. They will announce on Jean’s CTAF (122.9) during active jumps.
Set your course towards Jean airport (0L7) as you near Las Vegas. Your best bet is to have been using flight following on your trip in, but if not, contact Las Vegas Approach on 125.9 sometime before the mode-C veil. “Las Vegas approach, Piper 123XH, 30 miles South at 5,500, request bravo transition to North Las Vegas.” Depending on your altitude, this is also a good time to start listening for KVGT ATIS if you have a second radio, otherwise you end up with a high workload as you transition the bravo and get handed off to VGT tower. For the pilots who don’t often operate in Class B airspace, remember that ATC must explicitly clear you into the airspace; a vector and a transponder assignment wont be sufficient to keep you out of hot water if they didn’t say the magic words.
Once you have set your transponder and been cleared into the Bravo, expect to be vectored just west of KHND, and then directly over the numbers for RWY 25 at KLAS. This is where it gets fun! Shortly after you have flown abeam the end of RWY 19 and confirmed visual of the Stratosphere, expect to be granted own-nav, direct to KVGT, and instructed to remain above 3,500 until cleared below by North Las Vegas tower. This is a good time to slow the plane down, adjust your heading to get a bit closer to the scenery, and take in the view.
Soon after you fly abeam Wynn Resort (two striking bronze colored ellipse towers), you will be handed off to North Las Vegas tower. Mention the current ATIS identifier on initial contact, and expect to be given a turn instruction and your runway assignment. Depending on winds and traffic at VGT, you will be instructed to turn in before the Strat with a direct-in approach to RWY 30L/downwind for 12R, or turn after the Strat to fly a left base/cross into 25/7. Just remember that the tip of the Stratosphere is at 3,187’ (that’s above VGT TPA!), so maintain that lateral clearance; there’s a good chance that you will descend below it as you make your final turn into KVGT. If approaching from the southeast, expect vectors to the Henderson (KHND) airport and from there a northerly heading as previously stated. There is skydiving activity at the Boulder City Airport (KBVU) so you will want to use caution when transitioning overhead. Also use caution for multiple helicopter tour operators operating between the ridge (south of KHND) and the Boulder City Airport (KBVU). They all will be on KBVU CTAF until the Boulder City substation (depicted on TAC southeast of KBVU) where they will switch to 120.650. It is recommended that you get flight following from Las Vegas approach when you approach from the southeast. Do note that if you are at an altitude of 8,500 ft or lower in the vicinity of KBVU, you may not be able to communicate with Las Vegas approach as there are many dead spots which are blocked by mountains and the Approach control transmitter site. You may also request the Cortez Arrival into KVGT with Las Vegas approach which starts at Lava Butte(depicted on TAC chart south east of Nellis(KLSV)). You will need a Bravo clearance to fly this arrival. The instructions for this arrival can be found on the inset of the TAC chart. Expect numerous helicopter arrivals to operate underneath you at 3000 to KLAS and KVGT. Their route will take them from Lava Butte to the Stratosphere tower, almost directly under the same path you will take. Also note multiple arrivals to 19L/R to KLAS if the winds are from the south or southeast. Expect to maintain 3,500 until entering the KVGT class D airspace.
If for some reason KLAS isn’t able to accommodate your flight through their airspace, there is a VFR Flyway, which is illustrated on the TAC chart. Follow the 15 Freeway while descending below 4,000, and turn west before you enter KHND airspace. The SFC Bravo is 6 NM from the LAS VORTAC, so use your DME to remain clear of the airspace, following this route to the north. Contact KVGT tower before you reach the Bank of America building.
Once you’re on the ground, you will find transient parking just north of taxiway B at H, with self-serve fuel a bit further north nearby. Do look ahead at the hotspots indicated on the VGT diagram, as this airport is well known for runway incursions. You’ll typically find Ground Control to be accommodating, and it is recommend to request a taxicab over UNICOM (122.95) if you’re planning to use one; the wait can be at least 30 minutes. The fare will average $30-$35 plus tip to get to the Strip. KVGT does have a restaurant on the airport. There are also a number of restaurants at the nearby Hotel/Casino. A second option is to head back to Henderson Executive where there is a great diner with fantastic second floor views of the runway, and a full bar for your passengers!
So you’ve won the jackpots, seen the sights, and eaten at the buffet, but now it’s time to think about your trip back out of the valley. Luckily, the transition south is almost identical to the flight in, so go ahead and request the Bravo transition south when you contact KVGT Ground for taxi instructions. KVGT may or MAY NOT coordinate for you, but if not they will give a departure heading, and frequency to contact LAS TRACON to make your request once in the air. Dial this into your second radio if you have one, because you’ll need it soon after rotation. If you are interested in seeing the Hoover Dam and the tallest concrete span arch bridge in the world request an east departure with KVGT tower. You will also want to make this request if you are headed back to the state of Arizona or towards the Blythe (BLH) VOR. You’ll be handed off to Nellis approach upon departure. You can expect to maintain 5000 and expect vectors to pass right over the center of Nellis AFB (KLSV). Inform them that you will cancel over the Gypsum Mine which is just east of KLSV and depicted on the TAC (on the sectional it is depicted as plant and strip mine). Pilots are requested to monitor 120.65 and it is highly suggested. Be alert for high volume tour traffic in the area. Also observe FAA advisory circular (AC) 91-36, which requests 2,000 AGL clearance in noise sensitive areas. Most of the tour companies over the Hoover Dam will approach the dam from the northwest or will approach from the Boulder City substation which is depicted on the TAC chart just southeast of Boulder City Airport (KBVU). They will be helicopters and will be operating at 3500 on the tour. Be alert for fixed wing tour traffic as well departing from KBVU heading east as well as those returning from the Grand Canyon landing at both Boulder City and Henderson Airports. If you want to skip the dam, inform Nellis approach that you’d like flight following. Expect the vectors out of KVGT as stated above. As you get towards the Gypsum Mine, expect to be handed off to Las Vegas Approach and expect Higher with them. If the dam doesn’t interest you, you’ve requested a departure to the south-southwest from KVGT tower. Expect a heading assignment on departure with a frequency to contact Las Vegas Approach. You can expect vectors to the west of McCarren airport. You will most likely receive a Bravo clearance unless McCarren is landing runway 7R (usually in the summer months). Out to the west you can expect stunning views of Red Rock National Conservation area off the right side of your airplane. Use caution however getting too close to the mountains out west when the wind is high as downdrafts and turbulence will be present.
If you’d rather get right out of town without traffic advisories, depart heading 220, remaining north of the Bank of America Building. Once you’ve passed Bank of America, skirt the SFC section of LAS Bravo, remaining 6 NM from the LAS VORTAC and below 4,000’. Follow this around until you have visual of the 15 Freeway, and turn south once you are abeam KHND. There will be varied terrain to the Starboard side of the aircraft, so beware of CFIT and keep a close eye on your altitudes as you climb out; You’ll be flying beneath a major approach corridor for McCarran. It is also recommended to be on frequency with Vegas approach, which KVGT should provide as you exit their airspace(expect 125.9). Be sure not to cross into KHND airspace as you round the bend unless you have radio contact with Tower.
A well-prepared pilot will find the trip into Las Vegas to be straightforward and rewarding! Check back with us soon, and consider attending our free safety meetings!