Companies in this industry provide scheduled domestic and international passenger transportation, as well as mail and freight transportation. Major US companies include American Airlines, Delta, FedEx, Southwest, and United; leading companies based outside the US include Air France-KLM, China Southern Air, Deutsche Lufthansa, Emirates Group, and International Airlines Group.
Worldwide, the airline industry generates more than $800 billion in revenue annually. The number of air travelers is expected to exceed 4.5 billion in 2019, up from about 3 billion in 2012, according to the International Air Transport Association. Top regions for passenger growth include the emerging economies of Africa, Asia/Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The US airline industry includes about 2,200 establishments (single-location companies and units of multi-location companies) with combined annual revenue of about $190 billion.
Airline demand depends highly on the health of the economy, which affects spending on business and leisure air travel. Because many costs are fixed, the profitability of individual companies is determined by efficient operations and on favorable fuel and labor costs. Large companies enjoy economies of scale in purchasing and the ability to provide more extensive services. Small airlines can compete by serving local or regional routes.
The high capital requirements of the airline industry severely limit the number of participants. The US industry is highly concentrated: the four largest companies account for more than 60% of industry revenue.
Major network carriers are feeling increasing competitive pressure from low-cost providers. No-frills, low-fare carriers have successfully taken market share by targeting price-conscious consumers. Some traditional providers have responded by implementing basic, economy fares.
IT Integration - Airlines have long relied on complex information systems to support their core operations (flight management, passenger scheduling, baggage tracking), but technology is also an increasingly important customer-experience component. Passengers have come to expect such features as mobile applications that manage boarding passes, on-board wireless networking service, and access to customer service through social media platforms.
Segmented Products - Airlines are increasingly segmenting their offerings to cater to specific customer groups and maximize profits. Investing in new, larger aircraft can help facilitate the strategy by giving carriers the ability to offer different service levels. For example, business passengers are more likely to pay a premium for extra amenities and more spacious seating, while leisure customers are more likely to seek low-cost options.
Managing Fuel Costs - After labor costs, fuel is the largest operating expense for airlines. Most airlines engage in financial hedging strategies to protect themselves from fluctuations in fuel prices. Locking in low fuel rates and guarding against future price spikes is crucial for maintaining profit margins.
Targeting Emerging Markets - Much of the industry's growth potential lies in regions with emerging economies. Markets in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America have experienced much higher growth rates than established economies in North America and Europe in recent years.
Companies to Watch:
American Airlines is the largest airline in the world by most metrics. Maintaining a fleet of more than 950 aircraft, American operates an average of nearly 6,700 flights per day to nearly 350 destinations.
Qatar Airways has consistently earned top scores from customers for comfortable seating and impressive entertainment systems. Along with fellow Gulf carriers Emirates (Dubai) and Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi), Qatar Airways has grown quickly by offering one-stop long-haul flights.
Southwest ranks among the 10 largest airlines by revenue. The company's focus on low fares, efficient operations, and customer experience have made it a model for other low-cost carriers.
Products, Operations & Technology
Major services include domestic passenger transportation (about 70% of industry revenue) and international passenger transportation (20%); mail and freight
Sales & Marketing
Finance & Regulation
Regional & International Issues
Also includes the following chapters:
Quarterly Industry Update
Trends and Opportunities
Call Preparation Questions
Glossary of Acronyms