March 25 â€” It's been a terrible two years for America's airlines. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, they have lost upwards of $18 billion and shed 100,000 workers. People are just more reluctant to fly at a time of war and terror alerts.
The slide in bookings has already contributed to bankruptcy filings by the second and seventh largest U.S. carriers. And the biggest carrier -- American Airlines -- may be on the brink of suffering the same fate.
If the war with Iraq is a prolonged one, and the downturn in travel persists, a slew of smaller airlines may also pack it in. It would not be a unique war-time experience: In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Eastern Airlines, Pan Am, Midway and Markair all sputtered and failed.
This time around, the pressures on airlines are even more intense. A weak economy, a bear market, and rising jet fuel prices have all ganged up with post-Sept. 11 anxiety to tax the industry like never before. Airlines could lose $10 billion to $13 billion this year, industry experts predict. And they say the number of layoffs could match those already announced in the past year-and-a-half.
A government aid package may be some airlines only hope. But that is a political hot potato with many airline critics arguing that mismanagement dating back to well before Sept. 11 is at the heart of the industry's troubles.
Gary A. Seidman