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Air Power

And he's not finished yet. Next, McCarran plans to deploy self-service kiosks that a passenger can use to check into any flight, at the airport or at a nearby hotel. He's also upgrading to a Gigabit Ethernet backbone network to ramp up wireless and multimedia applications, a move that might not have been possible had McCarran not taken central control of IT.

Love-Hate Relationship

Walker's IT-driven philosophy has drawn praise from other airport directors and ire from airline executives unaccustomed to relinquishing so much control.

When Walker and his team first called a meeting in 1996 to discuss setting up common-use terminal equipment, or CUTE, throughout the airport to replace the airlines' hardwired proprietary terminals, the carriers sent property managers instead of IT people. It was an act of defiance, a way to proclaim that the terminal buildings were the carriers' turf. The reception was cool, to say the least. "We could have harvested ice out of that meeting," Walker recalls.

Today, all but one of the 28 carriers operating at McCarran use CUTE systems, which the airport spent $60 million to deploy. The return on investment has been noteworthy: The airlines no longer have to maintain their own systems, passengers get more reliable and accurate information, and the airport has saved more than $100 million by letting carriers share gates and ticket counters rather than building additional facilities. Says Walker: "We wore them down by a process I call 'death by a thousand cuts.'"

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