Air Transport World

A year not soon forgotten. (ATW's World Airline Report).(Statistical Data Included)

The ancient -- and perhaps apocryphal -- Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times," came brutally true in 2001. A year that began with the tragic deaths of Atlas Air founder, Chairman and CEO Michael Chowdry and Wall Street Journal aviation reporter Jeff Cole in the crash of Chowdry's private Czech trainer didn't get any better as the weeks rolled by. Over the course of the summer, TAM Airlines CEO Rolim Adolfo Amaro was killed in a helicopter crash and Aer Lingus Chairman Bernie Cahill drowned in a freak boating accident.

Then came Sept. 11, a day that plunged the industry into an economic crisis that, for many, continues to this day. It accelerated the fatal descent of Swissair--which was a victim first and foremost of the empire-building ambitions of Philippe Bruggisser -- as well as the collapse of Sabena and Ansett. Ansett's failure, in turn, led to the near-bankruptcy of Air New Zealand, which only was prevented by a renationalization that wiped out some $170 million invested by Singapore Airlines in yet another money-losing cross-border airline equity investment (ATW, 11/01, p. 50). Transbrasil shut down last December while Air Afrique gave up the ghost following unsuccessful attempts to restructure the bloated and undercapitalized carrier.

According to ICAO preliminary estimates, the world's scheduled airlines lost $11.9 billion last year, more than half of which--$7.4 billion--was shed by the 10 US Major airlines (ATW, 3/02, p. 54). In 2000 the world's airlines earned an estimated $3.3 billion. Revenues fell 7.1% to $305.3 billion in 2001 while operating expenses clipped only 0.5% to $316.2 billion, ICAO calculated, resulting in an operating loss of $10.9 billion versus an operating profit of $11 billion in 2000. World airline traffic (RPKs) dropped 3% last year--the first year-over-year decline since 1991-90.

One era of air travel ended on Sept. 11 and another began. It is an age in which people reflexively look skyward when a jet passes low overhead and in which passengers and crew find themselves glancing furtively about the airport and the cabin for the next Mohamed Atta or Richard Reid. It is an age in which pilots say goodbye to the cabin staff and lock themselves into the cockpit at the start of a flight as if they were going into protective custody for the next few hours.

It also is an era in which air travelers are expected to accept intrusive personal searches from the moment they set foot on airport property until the doors are closed on departure and in which airlines and airports are scrambling to adapt to intense and constantly evolving security requirements. Airlines and passengers traveling to, from and within the US understandably have borne the brunt of these radical changes. …

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