2000-2010: The Decline Of The U.S. Airline Industry

The June/July 2011 issue of Air Line Pilot, the official journal of ALPA, the largest U.S. airline pilot’s union, arrived in the mail. It contains a review of the preceding decade. Here are some interesting numbers:

  • the peak of U.S. airline employment was in 2000, with more than 650,000 Americans working for an airline. “U.S. airlines have cut nearly 150,000 employees since the peak,” based on government statistics, leaving just over 500,000 employed
  • the peak of U.S. airline pilot employment was in 2005, with 76,078 pilots. The numbers are down slightly since then, with 74,552 pilots working in 2010. There has been a gradual shift from major airlines to regional.
  • passenger traffic in the U.S. peaked in 2007 and the current traffic levels are about 6 per cent below the peak
  • ticket prices during the decade, adjusted for inflation, went down 21 per cent (they were flat in nominal terms; compared to a 117 per cent rise in college tuition, an 82 per cent rise in the cost of eggs, and a 46 per cent rise in the cost of a movie ticket)
  • jet fuel prices rose an average of 10 per cent per year during the decade
  • revenues for U.S. cargo-only airlines, such as UPS and Fedex, grew from $20 billion in 2001 to more than $30 billion in 2010 (down from a 2008 peak of more than $35 billion); these numbers are not adjusted for inflation and the 2001 number would be about $24.6 billion in 2010 dollars
  • the last supersonic passenger flight, an Air France Concorde from Paris to New York, took place in 2003
  • more than 30 per cent of U.S. airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection during the decade (i.e., 30 per cent of airline shareholders were wiped out)
  • a lot of new jobs for pilots will be with “state-owned airlines”; under the headline “Rise of the Middle Eastern Airlines”, it is forecast that “By 2029, 68 per cent of air traffic volume will be from the emerging economies in such countries and regions as Asia, Brazil, India, and the Middle East.”

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