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July 21, 2024
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According to a note from the US DoT today: “The 23 U.S. scheduled passenger airlines employed 1.5% fewer full-time equivalents (FTEs) in mid-September 2020 than in mid-August 2020:

  • Mid-September’s total number of FTEs (404,869) was down 6,307 FTEs from mid-August 2020 (411,176 FTEs) and down 56,728 FTEs from mid-March 2020. Mid-September was the lowest FTE total for any month since February 2016 (403,917 FTEs).
  • Mid-September FTEs were down more than 47,000 FTEs, a 10.5% drop from mid-September 2019 (452,138 FTEs).”

Things are as bad as anyone who has been following the news knows.  The damage goes far deeper than just the people working in the industry – each of those people has dependents who are as much impacted by the damage running through the US airline industry and the downstream travel business.

Take a look at this chart that graphically demonstrates the level of impact the lack of air travelers is having on the US airline industry.

As we see, there has been a well-established trend showing a steady decline in the number of people working in the airline industry on a per-flight basis.  This trend was driven by automation and IT.  But then came consolidation and the decline accelerated pre-2015.

However, the suddenness of the pandemic impact was a shock nobody was prepared for. The loss of traffic left the US airlines, virtually overnight, with an infrastructure that normally handled 2.5 million passengers per day.  The lowest average passenger load was 11 in 2020!

Even with some mismatched data, the chart shows a trend way out of line. To smooth out the radical jump, we averaged the data by quarter. The average first-quarter ratio of employees/flight between 2013 and 2020 was 92.  The second-quarter number, through 2019 was 86, but adding 2020 drove it to 106. For the third quarter we have an average through 2019 of 83, but adding 2020 we have 122.

Because of the granular data the US DoT produces, the problem is easy to turn into a metric for the US.  But the impact is global.

Absent a Covid vaccine, and people feeling safe to travel again, the global airline and general travel industry remain mired in its worst depression on record.  IATA and its members are at pains to explain how safe it is to fly.  Well, maybe.  But travelers still have to bunch up in airports, especially at security lines.  Being on the aircraft is perhaps a relatively “safe space”.  But getting to that space and then from it take passengers through spaces they are not comfortable with.  Then add to the mix public policies that are confusing – each country and some cases, states, and provinces, have their own rules. And that is why passenger numbers remain anemic and the greater travel industry is bleeding out.  Along with this goes a rich source of tax income for governments the world over.  Such a pity and such a waste.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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