US airlines lose quarter of staff over last decade

US airlines lose quarter of staff over last decade

The United States aviation industry has shed one quarter of its workforce over the past ten years, with the largest airlines hardest hit.

One in every four jobs in the airline industry disappeared in the ten years ending December 31st, according to statistics from the US Bureau of Transportation (BOT). As a result airlines employed 557,674 full-time and part-time workers at the end of 2009; a figure down more than 170,000 from the end of 1999.

The job loss was most pronounced at the major carriers.

United Airlines is less than half its 1999 size following a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and subsequent reorganisation during 2002-06, while American Airlines has seen numbers fall 26 per cent from a peak of 97,199 in 1999.

Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines - which merged in 2008 after each went through bankruptcy reorganisation earlier in the decade - showed a similarly steep drop in employment numbers.

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There have been several driving factors behind the job losses, according to the BOT, with a stunted economy, fluctuating fuel prices, increased security at airports, taxes and an increasing regulatory burden all taking a toll.

However, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have all added jobs over the last ten years.

Mergers and the failure of carriers – including ATA Airlines – have also led to efficiency savings and further jobs cuts. Hubs at St. Louis (TWA), Cincinnati (after the Delta-Northwest merger) and Pittsburgh (US Airways) have also been scaled back following acquisitions.

Further Consolidation

The trend appears set to continue, with executives at two of the largest airlines in the US confirming this week their organisations were open to further consolidation.

Speaking at the Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit in New York, United Airlines chief financial officer Kathryn Mikells said the third-largest US airline is open to merging with domestic or foreign carriers.

US Airways chief financial officer Derek Kerr also suggested a partnership with another American airline. The two airlines came close to merger in 2008, with officials reiterating the need to consolidate in order to return the industry to profitability.

The airline industry has lost $50 billion in the past ten years, including $11 billion of red ink in 2009 alone, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).