Airlines on Cusp of Change

As nasty as the dispute between Northwest Airlines Inc. and its mechanics has been, it may be the final such confrontation in aviation for several years to come.

Even with those advantages, airlines have struggled financially. The enormous fixed costs of operating huge fleets of jets means that airlines prosper only in the best of times.

Despite some bounteous years in the mid-'90s, when airlines made billions in profits, heavy losses are more the norm.

Perhaps alone among U.S. industries, commercial airlines as a group have lost more money over the past 50 years than they have made.

In addition, smaller no-frills start-ups have found a way to nibble away at the major carriers' most lucrative clients -- business travelers.

All of which translates into weakened unions hanging on in a weakened industry.

But Jenkins said there will come a day when unions and management shake off their fatigue and fight a few more rounds.

"They like a rumble," Jenkins said. "If they didn't rumble, why would they need each other? Combat is part of the model. So we will always have these things."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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