Airline industry services and trends

Arguing with a pilot is like wrestling with a pig in the mud, after a while you begin to think the pig likes it.

- Anonymous.

Emirates Boeing 777 fleet at Dubai International Airport

Emirates Boeing 777 fleet at Dubai International Airport

An airline provides air transport services for traveling passengers and freight. Airlines lease or own their aircraft with which to supply these services and may form partnerships or alliances with other airlines for mutual benefit. Generally, airline companies are recognized with an air operating certificate or license issued by a governmental aviation body. Airlines vary from those with a single aircraft carrying mail or cargo, through full-service international airlines operating hundreds of aircraft. Airline services can be categorized as being intercontinental, intra-continental, domestic, regional, or international, and may be operated as scheduled services or charters.

The first airlines


American aviation pioneers, such as Rufus Porter and Frederick Marriott, attempted to start airlines using airships in the mid-19th century, focusing on the New York–California route. Those attempts floundered due to such mishaps as the airships catching fire and the aircraft being ripped apart by spectators. DELAG, Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft was the world's first airline. It was founded on November 16, 1909 with government assistance, and operated airships manufactured by The Zeppelin Corporation. Its headquarters were in Frankfurt. The four oldest non-dirigible airlines that still exist are Netherlands' KLM, Colombia's Avianca, Australia's Qantas, and the Czech Republic's Czech Airlines. KLM first flew in May 1920, while Qantas (which stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited) was founded in Queensland, Australia, in late 1920.

U.S. airline industry


Tony Jannus conducted the United States' first scheduled commercial airline flight on 1 January 1914 for the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The 23-minute flight traveled between St. Petersburg, Florida and Tampa, Florida, passing some 50 feet (15 m) above Tampa Bay in Jannus' Benoist XIV biplane flying boat. Chalk's International Airlines began service between Miami and Bimini in the Bahamas in February 1919. Based in Ft. Lauderdale, Chalk's claimed to be the oldest continuously operating airline in the United States until its closure in 2008. Following World War I, the United States found itself swamped with aviators. Many decided to take their war-surplus aircraft on barnstorming campaigns, performing aerobatic maneuvers to woo crowds. In 1918, the United States Postal Service won the financial backing of Congress to begin experimenting with air mail service, initially using Curtiss Jenny aircraft that had been procured by the United States Army Air Service. Private operators were the first to fly the mail but due to numerous accidents the US Army was tasked with mail delivery. During the course of the Army's involvement they proved to be too unreliable and lost their air mail duties. By the mid-1920s, the Postal Service had developed its own air mail network, based on a transcontinental backbone between New York and San Francisco. To supplant this service, they offered twelve contracts for spur routes to independent bidders. Some of the carriers that won these routes would, through time and mergers, evolve into Pan Am, Delta Air Lines, Braniff Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines (originally a division of Boeing), Trans World Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and Eastern Air Lines. Service during the early 1920s was sporadic: most airlines at the time were focused on carrying bags of mail. In 1925, however, the Ford Motor Company bought out the Stout Aircraft Company and began construction of the all-metal Ford Trimotor, which became the first successful American airliner. With a 12-passenger capacity, the Trimotor made passenger service potentially profitable. Air service was seen as a supplement to rail service in the American transportation network. At the same time, Juan Trippe began a crusade to create an air network that would link America to the world, and he achieved this goal through his airline, Pan American World Airways, with a fleet of flying boats that linked Los Angeles to Shanghai and Boston to London. Pan Am and Northwest Airways (which began flights to Canada in the 1920s) were the only U.S. airlines to go international before the 1940s. With the introduction of the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-3 in the 1930s, the U.S. airline industry was generally profitable, even during the Great Depression. This trend continued until the beginning of World War II.

As governments met to set the standards and scope for an emergent civil air industry toward the end of the war, the U.S. took a position of maximum operating freedom. The U.S. airline companies were not as hard-hit as European and the few Asian ones had been. This preference for "open skies" operating regimes continues, with limitations, to this day. World War II, like World War I, brought new life to the airline industry. Many airlines in the Allied countries were flush from lease contracts to the military, and foresaw a future explosive demand for civil air transport, for both passengers and cargo. They were eager to invest in the newly emerging flagships of air travel such as the Boeing Stratocruiser, Lockheed Constellation, and Douglas DC-6. Most of these new aircraft were based on American bombers such as the B-29, which had spearheaded research into new technologies such as pressurization. Most offered increased efficiency from both added speed and greater payload.

In the 1950s, the De Havilland Comet, Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8, and Sud Aviation Caravelle became the first flagships of the Jet Age in the West, while the Eastern bloc had Tupolev Tu-104 and Tupolev Tu-124 in the fleets of state-owned carriers such as Czechoslovak ČSA, Soviet Aeroflot and East-German Interflug. The Vickers Viscount and Lockheed L-188 Electra inaugurated turboprop transport. The next big boost for the airlines would come in the 1970s, when the Boeing 747, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and Lockheed L-1011 inaugurated wide-body ("jumbo jet") service, which is still the standard in international travel. The Tupolev Tu-144 and its Western counterpart, Concorde, made supersonic travel a reality. Concorde first flew in 1969 and operated through 2003. In 1972, Airbus began producing Europe's most commercially successful line of airliners to date. The added efficiencies for these aircraft were often not in speed, but in passenger capacity, payload, and range. Airbus also features modern electronic cockpits that were common across their aircraft to enable pilots to fly multiple models with minimal cross-training. Travel Concepts, Inc., founded by William J. Tobin in 1971, developed the first travel kits to be distributed in First Class and Business Class cabins, and also provided in-flight educational games for children. The travel kits and the educational game programs have been utilized by most major airlines for 25 years. 1978's U.S. airline industry deregulation lowered barriers for new airlines just as a downturn occurred. New start-ups entered during the downturn, during which time they found aircraft and funding, contracted hangar and maintenance services, trained new employees, and recruited laid off staff from other airlines. As the business cycle returned to normality, major airlines dominated their routes through aggressive pricing and additional capacity offerings, often swamping new start-ups. Only America West Airlines (which has since merged with US Airways) remained a significant survivor from this new entrant era, as dozens, even hundreds, have gone under. In many ways, the biggest winner in the deregulated environment was the air passenger. Indeed, the U.S. witnessed an explosive growth in demand for air travel, as many millions who had never or rarely flown before became regular fliers, even joining frequent flyer loyalty programs and receiving free flights and other benefits from their flying. New services and higher frequencies meant that business fliers could fly to another city, do business, and return the same day, for almost any point in the country. Air travel's advantages put intercity bus lines under pressure, and most have withered away.

By the 1980s, almost half of the total flying in the world took place in the U.S., and today the domestic industry operates over 10,000 daily departures nationwide. Toward the end of the century, a new style of low cost airline emerged, offering a no-frills product at a lower price. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, AirTran Airways, Skybus Airlines and other low-cost carriers began to represent a serious challenge to the so-called "legacy airlines", as did their low-cost counterparts in many other countries. Their commercial viability represented a serious competitive threat to the legacy carriers. However, of these, ATA and Skybus have since ceased operations. Increasingly since 1978, US airlines have been reincorporated and spun off by newly created and internally led manangement companies, and thus becoming nothing more than operating units and subsidiaries with limited financially decisive control. Among some of these holding companies and parent companies that are the relatively well known, are the UAL Corporation, along with the AMR Corporation, among a long list of airline holding companies sometime recognized world wide. Less recognized are the private equity firms which often seize managerial, financial, and board of directors control of distressed airline companies by temporarily investing large sums of capital in air carriers, so as to re-scheme an airlines assets into a profitable organization or liquidating an air carrier of their profitable and worthwhile routes and business operations. Thus the last 50 years of the airline industry have varied from reasonably profitable, to devastatingly depressed. As the first major market to deregulate the industry in 1978, U.S. airlines have experienced more turbulence than almost any other country or region. In fact, no U.S. legacy carrier survived bankruptcy-free.

Growth of the industry in recent years raised a number of questions. Domestic air transport grew in China at 15.5 percent annually from 2001 to 2006. The rate of air travel globally increased at 3.7 percent per year over the same time. The expanding demand for air travel has resulted in much more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the aviation , despite improvements of efficiency. Currently, the aviation sector, including domestic and international travel, make approximately 1.6 percent of global anthropogenic GHG emissions p/a. North America accounts for nearly 40 percent of the world's GHG emissions from aviation fuel use.

In recognition of the essential national economic role of a healthy aviation system, Congress authorized partial compensation of up to $5 billion in cash subject to review by the Department of Transportation and up to $10 billion in loan guarantees subject to review by a newly created Air Transportation Stabilization Board (ATSB). The applications to DOT for reimbursements were subjected to rigorous multiple reviews per year not only by DOT program personnel but also by the Government Accountability Office  and the DOT Inspector General. Ultimately, the federal government provided $4.6 billion in one-time, subject-to-income-tax cash payments to 427 U.S. air carriers, with no provision for repayment, essentially a gift from the taxpayers. Passenger carriers operating scheduled service received approximately $4 billion, subject to tax. In addition, the ATSB approved loan guarantees to six airlines totaling approximately $1.6 billion. Data from the US Treasury Department show that the government recouped the $1.6 billion and a profit of $339 million from the fees, interest and purchase of discounted airline stock associated with loan guarantees.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A340 taking off from London-Heathrow Airport
Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A340 taking off
from London-Heathrow Airport

European airline industry


The first countries in Europe to embrace air transport were Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Austria initiated the first regularly scheduled airmail service on March 31, 1918 in the midst of World War I. The route provided airmail service spanning Vienna to Kraków (now in Poland) to Lviv (now in Ukraine), as was often also extended to Kiev and Odessa. KLM, the oldest carrier still operating under its original name, was founded in 1919. The first flight (operated on behalf of KLM by Aircraft Transport and Travel) transported two English passengers to Schiphol, Amsterdam from London in 1920. Like other major European airlines of the time, KLM's early growth depended heavily on the needs to service links with far-flung colonial possessions (Dutch Indies). It is only after the loss of the Dutch Empire that KLM found itself based at a small country with few potential passengers, depending heavily on transfer traffic, and was one of the first to introduce the hub-system to facilitate easy connections. France began an air mail service to Morocco in 1919 that was bought out in 1927, renamed Aéropostale, and injected with capital to become a major international carrier. In 1933, Aéropostale went bankrupt, was nationalized and merged with several other airlines into what became Air France. In Finland, the charter establishing Aero O/Y (now Finnair) was signed in the city of Helsinki on September 12, 1923. Junkers F.13 D-335 became the first aircraft of the company, when Aero took delivery of it on March 14, 1924. The first flight was between Helsinki and Tallinn, capital of Estonia, and it took place on March 20, 1924, one week later. Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa was created in 1926 by merger of two airlines, one of them Junkers Luftverkehr. Lufthansa, due to the Junkers heritage and unlike most other airlines at the time, became a major investor in airlines outside of Europe, providing capital to Varig and Avianca. German airliners built by Junkers, Dornier, and Fokker were among the most advanced in the world at the time. In 1931, the airship Graf Zeppelin began offering regular scheduled passenger service between Germany and South America, usually every two weeks, which continued until 1937. In 1936, the airship Hindenburg entered passenger service and successfully crossed the Atlantic 36 times before crashing at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. The British company Aircraft Transport and Travel commenced a London to Paris service on August 25, 1919, this was the world's first regular international flight. The United Kingdom's flag carrier during this period was Imperial Airways, which became BOAC (British Overseas Airways Co.) in 1939. Imperial Airways used huge Handley-Page biplanes for routes between London, the Middle East, and India. Images of Imperial aircraft in the middle of the Rub'al Khali, being maintained by Bedouins, are among the most famous pictures from the heyday of the British Empire. In Soviet Union the Chief Administration of the Civil Air Fleet was established in 1921. One of its first acts was to help found Deutsch-Russische Luftverkehrs A.G. (Deruluft), a German-Russian joint venture to provide air transport from Russia to the West. Domestic air service began around the same time, when Dobrolyot started operations on 15 July 1923 between Moscow and Nizhni Novgorod. Since 1932 all operations had been carried under the name Aeroflot. By the end of the 1930s Aeroflot had become the world's largest airline, employing more than 4,000 pilots and 60,000 other service personnel and operating around 3,000 aircraft (of which 75% were considered obsolete by its own standards). During the Soviet era Aeroflot was synonymous with Russian civil aviation, as it was the only air carrier. It became the first airline in the world to operate sustained regular jet services on 15 September 1956 with the Tupolev Tu-104.

Deregulation of the European Union airspace in the early 1990s has had substantial effect on structure of the industry there. The shift towards 'budget' airlines on shorter routes has been significant. Airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair have grown at the expense of the traditional national airlines. There has also been a trend for these national airlines themselves to be privatized such as has occurred for Aer Lingus and British Airways. Other national airlines, including Italy's Alitalia, have suffered - particularly with the rapid increase of oil prices in early 2008.

Ryanair Boeing 737 taking off from Bristol International Airport
Ryanair Boeing 737 taking off from
Bristol International Airport

Asian airline industry


Although Philippine Airlines (PAL) was officially founded on February 26, 1941, its license to operate as an airliner was derived from merged Philippine Aerial Taxi Company (PATCO) established by mining magnate Emmanuel N. Bachrach on December 3, 1930, making it Asia's oldest scheduled carrier still in operation. Commercial air service commenced three weeks later from Manila to Baguio, making it Asia's first airline route. Bachrach's death in 1937 paved the way for its eventual merger with Philippine Airlines in March 1941 and made it Asia's oldest airline. It is also the oldest airline in Asia still operating under its current name. Bachrach's majority share in PATCO was bought by beer magnate Andres R. Soriano in 1939 upon the advice of General Douglas McArthur and later merged with newly formed Philippine Airlines with PAL as the surviving entity. Soriano has controlling interest in both airlines before the merger. PAL restarted service on March 15, 1941 with a single Beech Model 18 NPC-54 aircraft, which started its daily services between Manila (from Nielson Field) and Baguio, later to expand with larger aircraft such as the DC-3 and Vickers Viscount. India was also one of the first countries to embrace civil aviation. One of the first West Asian airline companies was Air India, which had its beginning as Tata Airlines in 1932, a division of Tata Sons Ltd. (now Tata Group). The airline was founded by India's leading industrialist, JRD Tata. On October 15, 1932, J. R. D. Tata himself flew a single engined De Havilland Puss Moth carrying air mail (postal mail of Imperial Airways) from Karachi to Bombay via Ahmedabad. The aircraft continued to Madras via Bellary piloted by Royal Air Force pilot Nevill Vintcent . Tata Airlines was also one of the world's first major airlines which began its operations without any support from the Government.  With the outbreak of World War II, the airline presence in Asia came to a relative halt, with many new flag carriers donating their aircraft for military aid and other uses. Following the end of the war in 1945, regular commercial service was restored in India and Tata Airlines became a public limited company on July 29, 1946 under the name Air India. After the independence of India, 49% of the airline was acquired by the Government of India. In return, the airline was granted status to operate international services from India as the designated flag carrier under the name Air India International. On July 31, 1946, a chartered Philippine Airlines (PAL) DC-4 ferried 40 American servicemen to Oakland, California from Nielson Airport in Makati City with stops in Guam, Wake Island, Johnston Atoll and Honolulu, Hawaii, making PAL the first Asian airline to cross the Pacific Ocean. A regular service between Manila and San Francisco was started in December. It was during this year that the airline was designated as the flag carrier of Philippines. During the era of decolonization, newly-born Asian countries started to embrace air transport. Among the first Asian carriers during the era were Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong (founded in September 1946 ), Orient Airways (later Pakistan International Airlines; founded in October 1946), Malayan Airways Limited in 1947 (later Singapore and Malaysia Airlines), El Al in Israel in 1948, Garuda Indonesia in 1948, Japan Airlines in 1951,Thai Airways International in 1960, and Korean National Airlines in 1947.

El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 777 landing at London-Heathrow Airport
El Al Israel Airlines Boeing 777 landing
at London-Heathrow Airport

Latin American airline industry


Among the first countries to have regular airlines in Latin America were Bolivia with Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, Cuba with Cubana de Aviación, Colombia with Avianca, Chile with LAN Chile (today LAN Airlines), Brazil with Varig, Dominican Republic with Dominicana de Aviación, Mexico with Mexicana de Aviación, Venezuela with Aeropostal, and TACA based in El Salvador and representing several airlines of Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). All the previous airlines started regular operations well before World War II. The air travel market has evolved rapidly over recent years in Latin America. Some industry estimates indicate that over 2,000 new aircraft will begin service over the next five years in this region. These airlines serve domestic flights within their countries, as well as connections within Latin America and also overseas flights to North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Only three airlines: LAN (Latin American Networks), OceanAir and TAM Airlines have international subsidiaries and cover a large number of destinations within the Americas as well as major hubs in other continents. LAN with Chile as the central operation along with Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina and some operations in the Dominican Republic. The recently formed AviancaTACA group has control of Avianca Brazil, VIP Ecuador and a strategic alliance with AeroGal. And TAM with its Mercosur base in Asuncion, Paraguay. As of 2010, talks of uniting LAN and TAM have strongly developed to create a joint airline named LATAM.

TAM Linhas Aereas Airbus A330 landing at London-Heathrow Airport
TAM Linhas Aereas Airbus A330 landing
at London-Heathrow Airport

Regulatory considerations


Many countries have national airlines that the government owns and operates. Fully private airlines are subject to a great deal of government regulation for economic, political, and safety concerns. For instance, governments often intervene to halt airline labor actions in order to protect the free flow of people, communications, and goods between different regions without compromising safety. The United States, Australia, and to a lesser extent Brazil, Mexico, India, the United Kingdom and Japan have "deregulated" their airlines. In the past, these governments dictated airfares, route networks, and other operational requirements for each airline. Since deregulation, airlines have been largely free to negotiate their own operating arrangements with different airports, enter and exit routes easily, and to levy airfares and supply flights according to market demand. The entry barriers for new airlines are lower in a deregulated market, and so the U.S. has seen hundreds of airlines start up (sometimes for only a brief operating period). This has produced far greater competition than before deregulation in most markets, and average fares tend to drop 20% or more. The added competition, together with pricing freedom, means that new entrants often take market share with highly reduced rates that, to a limited degree, full service airlines must match. This is a major constraint on profitability for established carriers, which tend to have a higher cost base. As a result, profitability in a deregulated market is uneven for most airlines. These forces have caused some major airlines to go out of business, in addition to most of the poorly established new entrants.

Groups such as the International Civil Aviation Organization establish worldwide standards for safety and other vital concerns. Most international air traffic is regulated by bilateral agreements between countries, which designate specific carriers to operate on specific routes. The model of such an agreement was the Bermuda Agreement between the US and UK following World War II, which designated airports to be used for transatlantic flights and gave each government the authority to nominate carriers to operate routes. Bilateral agreements are based on the "freedoms of the air", a group of generalized traffic rights ranging from the freedom to overfly a country to the freedom to provide domestic flights within a country (a very rarely granted right known as cabotage). Most agreements permit airlines to fly from their home country to designated airports in the other country: some also extend the freedom to provide continuing service to a third country, or to another destination in the other country while carrying passengers from overseas. In the 1990s, "open skies" agreements became more common. These agreements take many of these regulatory powers from state governments and open up international routes to further competition. Open skies agreements have met some criticism, particularly within the European Union, whose airlines would be at a comparative disadvantage with the United States' because of cabotage restrictions.

Economic considerations


Historically, air travel has survived largely through state support, whether in the form of equity or subsidies. The airline industry as a whole has made a cumulative loss during its 100-year history, once the costs include subsidies for aircraft development and airport construction. One argument is that positive externalities, such as higher growth due to global mobility, outweigh the micro-economic losses and justify continuing government intervention. A historically high level of government intervention in the airline industry can be seen as part of a wider political consensus on strategic forms of transport, such as highways and railways, both of which receive public funding in most parts of the world. Profitability is likely to improve in the future as privatization continues and more competitive low-cost carriers proliferate. Although many countries continue to operate state-owned or parastatal airlines, many large airlines today are privately owned and are therefore governed by micro-economic principles in order to maximize shareholder profit.

Ticket revenue


Airlines assign prices to their services in an attempt to maximize profitability. The pricing of airline tickets has become increasingly complicated over the years and is now largely determined by computerized yield management systems. Because of the complications in scheduling flights and maintaining profitability, airlines have many loopholes that can be used by the knowledgeable traveler. Many of these airfare secrets are becoming more and more known to the general public, so airlines are forced to make constant adjustments. Most airlines use differentiated pricing, a form of price discrimination, in order to sell air services at varying prices simultaneously to different segments. Factors influencing the price include the days remaining until departure, the booked load factor, the forecast of total demand by price point, competitive pricing in force, and variations by day of week of departure and by time of day. Carriers often accomplish this by dividing each cabin of the aircraft (first, business and economy) into a number of travel classes for pricing purposes. A complicating factor is that of origin-destination control ("OandD control"). Someone purchasing a ticket from Melbourne to Sydney for AU$200 is competing with someone else who wants to fly Melbourne to Los Angeles through Sydney on the same flight, and who is willing to pay AU$1400. Should the airline prefer the $1400 passenger, or the $200 passenger plus a possible Sydney-Los Angeles passenger willing to pay $1300? Airlines have to make hundreds of thousands of similar pricing decisions daily. The advent of advanced computerized reservations systems in the late 1970s, most notably Sabre, allowed airlines to easily perform cost-benefit analyses on different pricing structures, leading to almost perfect price discrimination in some cases (that is, filling each seat on an aircraft at the highest price that can be charged without driving the consumer elsewhere). The intense nature of airfare pricing has led to the term "fare war" to describe efforts by airlines to undercut other airlines on competitive routes. Through computers, new airfares can be published quickly and efficiently to the airlines' sales channels. For this purpose the airlines use the Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO), who distribute latest fares for more than 500 airlines to Computer Reservation Systems across the world. The extent of these pricing phenomena is strongest in "legacy" carriers. In contrast, low fare carriers usually offer preannounced and simplified price structure, and sometimes quote prices for each leg of a trip separately. Computers also allow airlines to predict, with some accuracy, how many passengers will actually fly after making a reservation to fly. This allows airlines to overbook their flights enough to fill the aircraft while accounting for "no-shows," but not enough (in most cases) to force paying passengers off the aircraft for lack of seats. Since an average of ⅓ of all seats are flown empty, stimulative pricing for low demand flights coupled with overbooking on high demand flights can help reduce this figure. This is especially crucial during tough economic times as airlines undertake massive cuts to ticket prices in order to retain demand.

Operating costs


Full-service airlines have a high level of fixed and operating costs in order to establish and maintain air services: labor, fuel, airplanes, engines, spares and parts, IT services and networks, airport equipment, airport handling services, sales distribution, catering, training, aviation insurance and other costs. Thus all but a small percentage of the income from ticket sales is paid out to a wide variety of external providers or internal cost centers. Moreover, the industry is structured so that airlines often act as tax collectors. Airline fuel is untaxed because of a series of treaties existing between countries. Ticket prices include a number of fees, taxes and surcharges beyond the control of airlines. Airlines are also responsible for enforcing government regulations. If airlines carry passengers without proper documentation on an international flight, they are responsible for returning them back to the original country. Analysis of the 1992–1996 period shows that every player in the air transport chain is far more profitable than the airlines, who collect and pass through fees and revenues to them from ticket sales. While airlines as a whole earned 6% return on capital employed (2-3.5% less than the cost of capital), airports earned 10%, catering companies 10-13%, handling companies 11-14%, aircraft lessors 15%, aircraft manufacturers 16%, and global distribution companies more than 30%. The widespread entrance of a new breed of low cost airlines beginning at the turn of the century has accelerated the demand that full service carriers control costs. Many of these low cost companies emulate Southwest Airlines in various respects, and like Southwest, they are able to take out a consistent profit throughout all phases of the business cycle. As a result, a shakeout of airlines is occurring in the U.S. and elsewhere. American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines (twice), US Airways (twice), Delta Air Lines, and Northwest Airlines have all declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some argue that it would be far better for the industry as a whole if a wave of actual closures were to reduce the number of "undead" airlines competing with healthy airlines while being artificially protected from creditors via bankruptcy law. On the other hand, some have pointed out that the reduction in capacity would be short lived given that there would be large quantities of relatively new aircraft that bankruptcies would want to get rid of and would re-enter the market either as increased fleets for the survivors or the basis of cheap planes for new start-ups. Where an airline has established an engineering base at an airport then there may be considerable economic advantages in using that same airport as a preferred focus (or "hub") for its scheduled flights.

Assets and financing


Airline financing is quite complex, since airlines are highly leveraged operations. Not only must they purchase (or lease) new airliner bodies and engines regularly, they must make major long-term fleet decisions with the goal of meeting the demands of their markets while producing a fleet that is relatively economical to operate and maintain. Compare Southwest Airlines and their reliance on a single airplane type (the Boeing 737 and derivatives), with the now defunct Eastern Air Lines which operated 17 different aircraft types, each with varying pilot, engine, maintenance, and support needs. A second financial issue is that of hedging oil and fuel purchases, which are usually second only to labor in its relative cost to the company. However, with the current high fuel prices it has become the largest cost to an airline. Legacy airlines, compared with new entrants, have been hit harder by rising fuel prices partly due to the running of older, less fuel efficient aircraft. While hedging instruments can be expensive, they can easily pay for themselves many times over in periods of increasing fuel costs, such as in the 2000–2005 period. In view of the congestion apparent at many international airports, the ownership of slots at certain airports (the right to take-off or land an aircraft at a particular time of day or night) has become a significant tradable asset for many airlines. Clearly take-off slots at popular times of the day can be critical in attracting the more profitable business traveler to a given airline's flight and in establishing a competitive advantage against a competing airline. If a particular city has two or more airports, market forces will tend to attract the less profitable routes, or those on which competition is weakest, to the less congested airport, where slots are likely to be more available and therefore cheaper. For example, Reagan National Airport attracts profitable routes due partly to its congestion, leaving less-profitable routes to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Dulles International Airport. Other factors, such as surface transport facilities and onward connections, will also affect the relative appeal of different airports and some long distance flights may need to operate from the one with the longest runway. For example, LaGuardia Airport is the preferred airport for most of Manhattan due to its proximity, while long-distance routes must use John F. Kennedy International Airport's longer runways. Newark Liberty International Airport has the worst surface transport options to most of Manhattan, so most of its use is due to the connections offered by its dominant tenant carrier.

American Airlines Boeing 777 in special Oneworld alliance livery, lands at London-Heathrow Airport
American Airlines Boeing 777 in special Oneworld
alliance livery, lands at London-Heathrow Airport

Airline partnerships


Code-sharing is the most common type of airline partnership. It involves one airline selling tickets for another airline's flights under its own airline code. An early example of this was Japan Airlines' (JAL) code-sharing partnership with Aeroflot in the 1960s on Tokyo–Moscow flights. Aeroflot operated the flights using Aeroflot aircraft, but JAL sold tickets for the flights as if they were JAL flights. This practice allows airlines to expand their operations, at least on paper, into parts of the world where they cannot afford to establish bases or purchase aircraft. Another example was the Austrian–Sabena partnership on the Vienna–Brussels–New York/JFK route during the late '60s, using a Sabena Boeing 707 with Austrian livery. Since airline reservation requests are often made by city-pair (such as "show me flights from Chicago to Düsseldorf"), an airline who is able to code-share with another airline for a variety of routes might be able to be listed as indeed offering a Chicago–Düsseldorf flight. The passenger is advised however, that airline no. 1 operates the flight from say Chicago to Amsterdam, and airline no. 2 operates the continuing flight (on a different airplane, sometimes from another terminal) to Düsseldorf. Thus the primary rationale for code sharing is to expand one's service offerings in city-pair terms so as to increase sales. A more recent development is the airline alliance, which became prevalent in late 1990s. These alliances can act as virtual mergers to get around government restrictions. Groups of airlines such as the Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam coordinate their passenger service programs (such as lounges and frequent-flyer programs), offer special interline tickets, and often engage in extensive code-sharing (sometimes system-wide). These are increasingly integrated business combinations - sometimes including cross-equity arrangements - in which products, service standards, schedules, and airport facilities are standardized and combined for higher efficiency. One of the first airlines to start an alliance with another airline was KLM, who partnered with Northwest Airlines. Both airlines later entered the SkyTeam alliance after the fusion of KLM and Air France in 2004. Often the companies combine IT operations, or purchase fuel and aircraft as a bloc in order to achieve higher bargaining power. However, the alliances have been most successful at purchasing invisible supplies and services, such as fuel. Airlines usually prefer to purchase items visible to their passengers to differentiate themselves from local competitors. If an airline's main domestic competitor flies Boeing airliners, then the airline may prefer to use Airbus aircraft regardless of what the rest of the alliance chooses.

Industry trends


The pattern of ownership has been privatized in the recent years, that is, the ownership has gradually changed from governments to private and individual sectors or organizations. This occurs as regulators permit greater freedom and non-government ownership, in steps that are usually decades apart. This pattern is not seen for all airlines in all regions. The overall trend of demand has been consistently increasing. In the 1950s and 1960s, annual growth rates of 15% or more were common. Annual growth of 5-6% persisted through the 1980s and 1990s. Growth rates are not consistent in all regions, but countries with a deregulated airline industry have more competition and greater pricing freedom. This results in lower fares and sometimes dramatic spurts in traffic growth. The U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, India and other markets exhibit this trend. The industry has been observed to be cyclical in its financial performance. Four or five years of poor earnings precede five or six years of improvement. But profitability even in the good years is generally low, in the range of 2-3% net profit after interest and tax. In times of profit, airlines lease new generations of airplanes and upgrade services in response to higher demand. Since 1980, the industry has not earned back the cost of capital during the best of times. Conversely, in bad times losses can be dramatically worse. Warren Buffett once said that despite all the money that has been invested in all airlines, the net profit is less than zero. He believes it is one of the hardest businesses to manage. As in many mature industries, consolidation is a trend. Airline groupings may consist of limited bilateral partnerships, long-term alliances between carriers, equity arrangements, mergers, or takeovers. Since governments often restrict ownership and merger between companies in different countries, most consolidation takes place within a country. In the U.S., over 200 airlines have merged, been taken over, or gone out of business since deregulation in 1978. Many international airline managers are lobbying their governments to permit greater consolidation to achieve higher economy and efficiency.

Airline personnel


The various types of airline personnel include flight operations/safety personnel.

Flight crew - responsible for the operation of the aircraft, include:

  • pilots - Captain and First Officer (some older aircraft also required a Flight Engineer and or a Navigator)
  • flight attendants - led by a purser on larger aircraft
  • in-flight security personnel on some airlines (most notably El Al)

Ground crew - responsible for operations at airports, include:

  • aerospace and avionics engineers - responsible for certifying the aircraft for flight and management of aircraft maintenance
    • aerospace engineers - responsible for airframe, power-plant and electrical systems maintenance
    • avionics engineers - responsible for avionics and instruments maintenance
  • airframe and power-plant technicians
  • electric system technicians - responsible for maintenance of electrical systems
  • avionics technicians - responsible for maintenance of avionics
  • flight dispatchers
  • baggage handlers
  • ramp agents
  • gate agents
  • ticket agents
  • passenger service agents (such as airline lounge employees)
  • reservation agents, usually (but not always) at facilities outside the airport

Airlines follow a corporate structure where each broad area of operations (such as maintenance, flight operations (including flight safety), and passenger service) is supervised by a vice president. Larger airlines often appoint vice presidents to oversee each of the airline's hubs as well. Airlines employ lawyers to deal with regulatory procedures and other administrative tasks.

UTC | Zulu Time


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