November 13, 2008
The airline industry has recently experienced its most volatile period in the past 20 years.
Propelled by expectations of ever-increasing demand for air transportation, passenger airlines expanded rapidly throughout the late 1990s. The growth was led by discount carriers that possessed distinct competitive advantages over their more established rivals. When the economy faltered in 2001, it became apparent that air carriers had expanded beyond sustainable levels. The September 11th attacks contributed to a further decline in the industry.
Over the course of the next 5 years, airlines continued to struggle as fuel prices rose to historic highs. Even after passenger volume recovered, the airlines continued to shed jobs in an attempt to restructure and return to profitability.
In early 2007 employment in air transportation reached a trough, and airlines returned to profitability, carrying record numbers of passengers. However, the recovery in airline employment would prove to be short lived. By 2008, the industry was once again losing jobs because of soaring fuel prices and a faltering national economy.
The employment data in this article are from the BLS Current Employment Statistics program, and are seasonally adjusted. To learn more, see "Takeoff and descent of airline employment," by Christopher J. Goodman, Monthly Labor Review, October 2008.