March 2008 Passenger Airline Employment Up 1.6 Percent from March 2007

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 - U.S. scheduled passenger airlines employed 1.6 percent more workers in March 2008 than in March 2007, the 14th consecutive increase in full-time equivalent employee (FTE) levels for the scheduled passenger carriers from the same month of the previous year, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported today (Table 2). FTE calculations count two part-time employees as one full-time employee.

The seven network carriers except for American Airlines all added FTEs from March 2007 to March 2008 (Table 9). All of the low-cost carriers (Table 12), and regional carriers American Eagle Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines, Horizon Air, Pinnacle Airlines, Mesaba Airlines, Executive Airlines, Trans States Airlines, Shuttle America and GoJet Airlines (Table 15) increased their FTEs compared to last year.

Scheduled passenger airlines include network, low-cost, regional and other airlines. Many regional carriers were not required to report employment numbers before 2003, so year-to-year comparisons involving regional carriers, or the total industry, are not available for the years before 2003.

The seven network carriers employed 283,917 FTEs in March, 68.5 percent of the passenger airline total, while low-cost carriers employed 14.7 percent and regional carriers employed 14.5 percent (Table 4).

American Airlines employed the most FTEs in March among the network carriers, Southwest Airlines employed the most among low-cost carriers, and SkyWest employed the most among regional carriers. Seven of the top 10 employers in the industry are network carriers (Table 6).

America West Airlines and US Airways now operate under a single certificate. Joint reporting began with October 2007 data. US Airways' employment numbers were included with the network airlines prior to October 2007 while America West's numbers were included with the low-cost airlines. Beginning with October 2007, US Airways' numbers are combined with America West Airlines' numbers in the network category. The combined carrier's numbers were included in the low-cost category for October 2007 through February 2008 in the releases for those months. The numbers for those months have been revised beginning with the March 2008 release to include the combined carrier's numbers in the network category for all months. The revision was due to a BTS recalculation based on the airline's fourth quarter financial report released May 19.

The merged airline, which is listed in the network category, reported 32,816 FTEs for March 2008. In March 2007, US Airways reported 19,682 FTEs in the network category and America West reported 12,339 FTEs in the low-cost category for a total of 32,021.

Network Airlines

FTEs at the seven network carriers increased 7.5 percent in March 2008 compared to March 2007, the 11th consecutive monthly gain from the same month of the previous year. Prior to an increase in May, the network group had reduced FTEs from the previous year every month since September 2001 (Table 7).

All the network carriers except for American Airlines increased FTEs from March 2007 to March 2008. The year-to-year increases were US Airways 66.7 percent, Delta Air Lines 7.1 percent, Alaska Airlines 5.7 percent, Continental Airlines 4.0 percent, Northwest Airlines 2.3 percent and United Airlines 1.7 percent. American's year-to-year employment decline was 0.1 percent (Table 9).

FTEs at four network carriers declined during the four years from March 2004 to March 2008. The exceptions were Continental with a 5.8 percent increase, Alaska with a 1.8 percent increase and the newly combined US Airways with a 25.0 percent gain (Table 8). The biggest percentage decline was at Northwest, down 22.6 percent, a reduction of 8,695 FTEs, followed by Delta at 15.5 percent. The other FTE decreases during that time were United, down 9.9 percent; and American, down 7.5 (Table 9).

Network carriers operate a significant portion of their flights using at least one hub where connections are made for flights to down-line destinations or spoke cities.

Low-Cost Airlines

Since the America West and US Airways report was combined last October and following the BTS recalculation of the carrier groups to place the merged airline in the network category, low-cost carrier FTEs have decreased for six consecutive months through March compared to the same month of the previous year (Tables 10, 11).

Although the merger resulted in a year-to-year decline for the group, all the carriers in the low-cost group for March 2008 had FTE increases from March 2007. Spirit Airlines reported an increase of 17.8 percent (Table 12).

Employment data for Independence Air, which changed its business model from a regional to low-cost carrier in mid-2004 and ceased operation in January 2006, have been included with low-cost carriers for 2004 and 2005.

Low-cost carriers are those that the industry recognizes as operating under a low-cost business model, with lower infrastructure costs and higher productivity. Two new low-cost carriers, SkyBus Airlines and Virgin America, began reporting employment data in August. SkyBus, which ceased operation on April 5, reported 445 FTEs in March. Virgin America filed its monthly employment report too late for inclusion in this release (Table 12).

Regional Airlines

Regional carrier FTEs were up 0.6 percent in March 2008 compared to March 2007 (Table 13).

GoJet and Mesaba reported the largest increases in the group. GoJet employed 12.2 percent more FTEs in March 2008 than March 2007, while Mesaba employed 17.0 percent more (Table 15).

Regional carrier FTEs rose from 56,370 in March 2005 to 60,242 in March 2008, an increase of 6.9 percent (Table 14).

The 12 regional carriers reporting employment data in both 2004 and 2008 employed 13.3 percent more FTEs in March 2008 than in March 2004. Of that group, Pinnacle reported the biggest gain, 74.1 percent, followed by SkyWest at 63.3 percent and ExpressJet at 26.9 percent. Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Air Wisconsin Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Trans States and Executive Airlines reported fewer FTEs in March 2008 than March 2004 (Table 15).

Regional carrier Compass Airlines began reporting employment data in November. Compass reported 456 FTEs in March (Table 12). Regional carrier Lynx Airlines began reporting employment data in February 2008. Lynx reported 332 FTEs in March (Table 12).

Regional carriers typically provide service from small cities, using primarily regional jets to support the network carriers' hub and spoke systems.

Reporting Notes

Airlines that operate at least one aircraft with the capacity to carry combined passengers, cargo and fuel of 18,000 pounds – the payload factor – must report monthly employment statistics.

The Other Carrier category generally reflects those airlines that operate within specific niche markets, such as Continental Micronesia and Hawaiian Airlines in serving the Hawaiian Islands. Aloha failed to file its March report in advance of its recent bankruptcy filing. Aloha ceased operation on March 31.

Data are compiled from monthly reports filed with BTS by commercial air carriers as of May 13.

Additional airline employment data can be found on the BTS website at BTS has scheduled release of April airline employment data for June 17.