Air Transport World

Battered & bruised: no major segment of the world's air transportation system has escaped unscathed from the barrage of assaults raining down in all directions.

The optimistic among us had hoped that as 2002 progressed it would turn into a time of recovery, of increasing confidence and returning travelers--especially business travelers--that in combination with draconian cutbacks would begin by the end of the year to give the industry a little breathing room. Not only was this cautious optimism grossly unwarranted, after the turn of the year a new disease entered the world stage and vocabulary, bringing to its knees the one region of the globe that was not already on life support. Further, SARS--Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome--came out of the Asia/Pacific region at about the same time as the tensions and traffic declines surrounding the runup to the war in Iraq and the actual fighting.

"Severe" is a good word for this time in the history of the airline industry. Several speakers at the recent IATA Annual General Meeting in Washington resorted to Biblical references to describe events, citing the Book of Job and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And these terms were used not as hyperbole or exaggeration but as apt descriptions for an unprecedented series of events that, according to IATA numbers, has caused the loss of 400,000 jobs in the airline industry worldwide and redefined what "draconian job cuts" really mean.

So embattled is the industry that early-June signs of a modest strengthening in bookings were treated with distrust, as if any glimmer of a recovery would cause some new plague to descend upon the airlines and snuff out hope at its conception. …

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