Employment by Airlines Still in Shrinking Pattern

The U.S. airline industry has not been the most stable workplace in recent years, statistics released Tuesday show.

Continuing a downward slide, U.S. passenger airlines employed 5 percent fewer employees in May of this year compared with last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

That is the 17th month in a row the number of full-time employees has shrunk for the industry, which has cut almost 28 percent of the full-time work force during the past four years.

Houston-based Continental Airlines is the only network carrier that is bucking the trend, showing an increase in employees this year over last.

Continental, which is in the midst of an expansion -- including an unprecedented international push -- recently began hiring more flight attendants and pilots, along with other types of employees.

"Continental is continuing to hire and train new people to support our growth," spokeswoman Sarah Anthony said. "We've also been staffing up our hubs in Houston, Newark and Cleveland, especially now that we are in peak summer travel season."

So far this year, Continental has hired more than 2,700 full- and part-time workers, and the airline projects it will hire more than 6,000 in 2006, she said.

A total of 403,000 full-time employees were working for all passenger airlines, including regional carriers, in May of this year, according to the bureau's survey. That is the lowest total since 2003.

About two-thirds of those, 66 percent, worked for the network carriers, where full-time employment dropped from 369,000 in May 2002 to 266,000 this year.

Continental, which began shrinking several years ago along with other carriers, is 6 percent smaller than it was in May 2002, the smallest change for any of the network airlines.

Continental had 34,000 full-time employees as of May, up from 33,000 in May of last year. In May 2002, Continental had about 37,000 full-time employees. Including part-time workers, this year it has more than 43,000 employees.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines, which the bureau classifies as a low-cost carrier for its survey purposes, saw an increase from 2005 to 2006 of about 500 full-time workers to 31,700.

Among the top five low-cost carriers, only America West did not increase employment from 2005 to 2006.

The biggest percentage declines at the network carriers were at US Airways, down 43.8 percent, and United, down more than 32 percent. Both of those carriers have been through bankruptcy court proceedings.

Copyright: The Houston Chronicle -- 7/20/06


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