As of 2006, there were 33 mainline air carriers that use large passenger jets (more than 90 seats); 81 regional carriers that use smaller piston, turboprop, and regional aircraft (up to 90 seats); and 25 all-cargo carriers.
Seven of the mainline carriers are known as network carriers, which have a “hub” and also fly internationally. A hub is a centrally located airport designated by an airline to receive a large number of its flights from many locations, and where passengers can transfer to flights destined for points served by the airline’s system. In this way, the airline serves the greatest number of passengers, from as many locations as possible, in the most efficient manner.
The mainline group also includes seven low-cost carriers. These carriers generally don’t have a hub and only offer flights between a limited numbers of cities. In the past, low-cost carriers focused primarily on transporting leisure passengers on routes less than 400 miles and had a reputation for “no frills” service. At present, low-cost carriers are expanding their routes to include longer transcontinental and nonstop flights with in-flight service that parallels their competition. These moves have helped low-cost carriers expand their customer base to include more business travelers. Low-cost carriers are the fastest growing segment of commercial aviation, flying one out of every four domestic passengers.
Another type of passenger airline carrier is the regional carrier. In 2006, there were approximately 81 of these carriers. Regional airlines operate short-haul and medium-haul scheduled airline service with an emphasis on connecting smaller communities with larger cities and hubs. Some of the largest regional carriers are subsidiaries of the major airlines, but most are independently owned, often contracting their services to the majors.
Air cargo is another segment of the airline industry. As of 2006, there were 25 of these carriers. Cargo can be carried in cargo holds of passenger airlines or on aircraft designed exclusively to carry freight. Cargo carriers in the air transportation industry do not provide door-to-door service. Instead, they provide only air transport from an airport near the cargo’s origin to an airport near the cargo’s destination. Companies that provide door-to-door delivery of parcels, either across town or across the continent, are classified in the couriers and messengers industry.
Demand for air travel is expected to continue into the future. Growth in the more mature domestic markets is expected to be moderate, while travel between the U.S. and foreign points is expected to be moderate to strong. International travel will be spurred by the emerging economies in and around Asia, and by liberal regulations that allow U.S. carriers to fly to more foreign destinations.
The airline industry faces many challenges in the future. Airlines must focus on cost control, cash preservation, and cautious growth. In the long run, a strong national economy, inexpensive tickets, and increasing demand for seats aboard aircraft should bode well for the industry and consumers.
[ Excerpted from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition - Air Transportation ]