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October 2008, Vol. 131, No. 10
Takeoff and descent of airline employment
Christopher J. Goodman
The airline industry in the United States has gone through major changes in recent years. After growing sharply throughout the late 1990s, the industry began to falter around the turn of the century.1 An economic downturn compounded by the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, induced the largest decline in air travel in modern aviation. By 2003, air travel was once again growing2; however, the industry’s fiscal position continued to deteriorate. In the face of mounting financial losses, the airlines aimed to reduce their expenditures on labor, leading to massive job losses in the industry. Airlines were hampered in their restructuring efforts by historically high fuel prices, which added further pressure to reduce employment. During the period from 2003 to 2006, the historical relationship between passenger volume and employment in the industry broke down. From its peak in March 2001, employment in the industry declined for 5 straight years.3 The industry did not begin to show signs of a recovery until 2007.
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1 The data on employment used in this article are from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, which surveys 150,000 nonfarm businesses representing about 390,000 worksites monthly. For more information on the program’s concepts and methodology, see Current Employment Statistics Technical Notes, on the BLS Web site at http://www.bls.gov/ces/#technical (visited Oct. 6, 2008). CES data are available at www.bls.gov/ces (visited Oct. 7, 2008). Data used in this article are seasonally adjusted unless otherwise noted.
2 As measured by revenue passenger miles, which is roughly the number of tickets sold times the average mile per ticket sold.
3 Data in this article regarding airline employment refer to “air transportation” (NAICS 481), unless otherwise noted. The industry is composed of both “scheduled” and “nonscheduled” airline employment. However, scheduled air transportation accounts for the bulk of total air transportation employment.
Related BLS programs
Current Employment Statistics (National)
Transportation by air: job growth moderates—Mar. 2000.
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