Commercial Aviation:

Financial Condition and Industry Responses Affect Competition

GAO-03-171T: Published: Oct 2, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 2, 2002.

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This testimony discusses the economic state of the airline industry. Many, but not all, major U.S. passenger airlines are experiencing their second consecutive year of record financial losses. In 2001, the U.S. commercial passenger airline industry reported losses in excess of $6 billion. For 2002, some Wall Street analysts recently projected that U.S. airline industry losses will approach $7 billion, and noted that the prospects for recovery during 2003 are diminishing. Carriers have taken many actions to lower their costs and restructure their operations. Since September 2001, carriers have furloughed 100,000 staff, renegotiated labor contracts, and streamlined their fleets by retiring older, costlier aircraft. Carriers have reduced capacity by operating fewer flights or smaller aircraft. In some cases, carriers eliminated all service to communities. As the aviation industry continues its attempts to recover, Congress will be confronted with a need for increased oversight of a number of public policy issues. First, airlines' reactions to financial pressures will affect the domestic industry's competitive landscape. Second, airlines' reductions in service will likely place additional pressure on federal programs supporting air service to small communities, where travel options are already limited. Finally, although domestic travel has been the focus of recent concern, there are numerous international developments--especially regarding the European Union (EU)--that may affect established international "open skies" agreements between the United States and EU member states.

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