Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Air Transport Industry



Air Transport Industry, area of commerce that uses aircraft to transport people, cargo, and mail. The air transport industry encompasses flights of common carriers (government-certified companies that offer cargo and passenger services to the public) and general aviation (private aircraft used for recreation or business). See also Airplane; Air Traffic Control; Aerospace Industry; Aviation.
The air transport industry supports a wide range of businesses. These include independent maintenance and repair shops, food caterers, aircraft cleaning services, fueling services, and airport security firms. The industry supports schools for pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics, as well as travel agencies, hotels, car rental companies, and other businesses in the travel and tourism industry.
II
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT
Flying for pleasure and adventure began during the 19th century, when European inventors experimented with hot air balloons and gliders. In 1910 the air transport industry was established in Germany when regular air service with gas-filled airships called dirigibles began to provide service between cities.
The first powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine occurred on December 17, 1903, when Orville Wright and his brother Wilbur Wright made their historic flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. On January 1, 1914, a group of Florida businesspeople launched the first scheduled air service using an airplane. For a period of four months, the Saint Petersburg-Tampa Air Boat Line transported a total of 1,200 passengers across Tampa Bay in a two-seat Benoit seaplane. The trip took about 20 minutes, and the one-way fare was $5. The service folded at the conclusion of Florida’s winter tourist season, but it was the first such venture that indicated scheduled air service could be commercially viable. Similar passenger services in the United States and Europe soon followed.
Passenger air service developed faster in Europe than it did in the United States. World War I (1914-1918) devastated many of Europe’s roads and railroads. The war also proved the military value of airplanes and sparked a dramatic acceleration in aircraft production. At the end of the war, fledgling commercial air carriers took advantage of the ruined ground transportation system and the large surplus of aircraft and pilots. Air service within Europe flourished, and by the 1930s government-sponsored airlines were operating well beyond Europe to numerous European colonies in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
A
Airmail and Passenger Service
The United States suffered none of the devastation that afflicted war-torn Europe. Trains in the United States were fast, reliable, and far more comfortable than airplanes, so there was relatively little demand for air travel after World War I. The government decision to use aircraft to transport mail kept the U.S. air transport industry alive. Airmail service began on the East Coast in 1918 and by 1921 extended all the way to California. Initially the government used its own aircraft and pilots, but two laws of the mid-1920s were key to the development of commercial aviation in the private sector. The 1925 Contract Air Mail Act, also known as the Kelly Act, authorized the U.S. Post Office Department (see United States Postal Service) to solicit airmail bids from private airlines. The 1926 Air Commerce Act gave the U.S. government the authority and responsibility to regulate commercial aviation.
Many of the current major U.S. airlines descend from the early mail carriers, some of which were themselves subsidiaries of aircraft manufacturers trying to create new markets. Henry Ford, an auto manufacturer, was among the first to win airmail contracts. His Ford Motor Company soon began producing aircraft, introducing the Ford Trimotor, commonly referred to as the Tin Goose, in 1927.
The Ford Trimotor was one of the first all-metal planes and the first plane designed primarily to carry passengers rather than mail. It had 12 passenger seats, an interior cabin with a ceiling high enough for people to walk down the aisle without stooping, and room for a flight attendant. The first flight attendants were nurses who served meals and assisted airsick passengers.
The Trimotor helped airlines develop the passenger side of their businesses. An event in 1927 drew public attention to aviation and convinced many that the industry had a bright future. On May 21, 1927, a young American pilot named Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in a 8.5-m (28-ft) airplane named the Spirit of St. Louis. The feat catapulted Lindbergh into instant fame as a folk hero and helped attract millions of investment dollars to aviation.
B
Technological Advances
Numerous technological advances made between World War I and World War II (1939-1945) were key to the development of the air transport industry. Navigation was greatly improved in the 1920s when rotating beacons began to mark air routes for nighttime flight.
Radio, which developed around the same time as aviation, made it possible for pilots to communicate with each other and with people on the ground. By the 1930s radio signals from fixed locations were guiding pilots to their destinations in darkness and poor visibility.
Engineers also made numerous advances in aircraft design during the 1930s. Air-cooled engines helped reduce weight and made larger and faster aircraft possible. Cockpit instruments also improved, with better indicators for airspeed and rate of climb and better altimeters and compasses.
American aviator James Doolittle helped design the artificial horizon in the late 1920s. This instrument shows pilots the angle the aircraft’s wings make with the ground and is important for flying in reduced visibility.
In the 1920s engineers developed aircraft that resembled today’s modern planes. These airplanes were all metal with one wing on each side of the plane, an engine on each wing’s leading edge, retractable landing gears, wing flaps to control speed, propellers with variable angles to increase climbing and cruising speeds, and enclosed cabins for the crew and passengers. One important aircraft developed at this time was the Boeing Company’s 247, which was widely used as a passenger aircraft into the 1940s.
Another important aircraft was the Douglas Aircraft Company’s DC-1, designed so the exterior surface of the plane bore most of the stress during flight, eliminating the need for an interior skeleton of metal spars, which took up space. A similar aircraft, the DC-3, proved even more popular with travelers and was the first plane that enabled airlines to make money carrying passengers rather than mail. It seated 21 passengers, more than any previous aircraft, and its 1,000-horsepower engines made it possible to travel coast to coast in the United States in 16 hours, considered a fast trip in the mid-1930s.
The Boeing Stratoliner, introduced in 1940, was the first aircraft to have a pressurized cabin, an innovation that enabled airlines to fly in the thin atmosphere above storms and air turbulence that frequently gave passengers upset stomachs and deterred many people from flying.
C
World War II and Beyond
Aviation had an enormous impact on the outcome of World War II, and the war had just as big an impact on commercial aviation. Aircraft production increased dramatically during the war, and airlines for the first time had far more business than they could handle as governments recruited them for the war effort. Airlines also had opportunities to fly new international routes, gaining an exposure that would give them a head start after the war’s end.
To meet military needs, aircraft engineers designed planes that were bigger, faster, and capable of flying farther than ever. Radar, which allowed pilots and controllers to get a better idea of situations in the air, made significant advances in England during World War II. As the war drew to a close, scientists working independently in Britain and Germany perfected the jet engine (see Jet Propulsion).
By the mid-1950s, more people were flying across the Atlantic Ocean than were crossing it on ships, and by the late 1950s there was more intercity travel in the United States by air than by rail or bus. The first successful commercial jet, the Boeing 707, entered service in 1958, making air transportation considerably faster and more comfortable for passengers and reducing airline maintenance costs through improved engine reliability.
Jumbo jets debuted in the 1970s and boosted airline carrying capacity. Also in the 1970s, the governments of France and Britain jointly developed the first commercial jet to fly faster than the speed of sound, the Concorde, which radically reduced transatlantic travel times. The Concorde remained in service until 2003 when Air France and British Airways discontinued the service, saying it was no longer commercially viable.
D
Government Regulation
Numerous governments around the world regulate the air transport industry. In the United States, government regulation began in 1926, when the Commerce Department set the first standards for pilots and aircraft and began establishing air routes and navigation systems and investigating accidents.
In 1938 the Congress of the United States created the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) to bring financial stability to the industry through regulation of airline routes, fares, and safety. It also created an independent Air Safety Board for accident investigations.
The CAA went through several name changes and reorganizations before the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) took over many of its duties in 1958. The FAA’s task was to develop and operate a nationwide air traffic control system and regulate the airlines on all matters of safety. The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), a descendant of the CAA established in 1938, retained jurisdiction over airlines’ routes and rates until deregulation occurred in 1978 (see Effects of Deregulation on Airlines below). The CAB also handled accident investigations until the creation of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 1967.
Transport Canada regulates civil air travel in Canada. The British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulates air travel within Britain. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), affiliated with the United Nations, was established in 1947. It sets safety and navigation standards for international carriers.
E
Aircraft Manufacturing
Soon after the Wright brothers made their first flight, the aircraft manufacturing industry began to grow. American manufacturer Glenn Curtiss founded Curtiss Aeroplane Company in 1907, just four years after the Wrights’ first flight. The Wright brothers created the American Wright Company in 1909. Curtiss Aeroplane combined with American Wright to form the Curtiss-Wright Company in 1928. Other important American aircraft manufacturers were Martin MB, founded in 1912 by American manufacturer Glenn Martin; Boeing Airplane Company, founded in 1916 by American aircraft designer William Boeing; Chance Vought, founded in 1917 by American manufacturer Chance Vought; Douglas Aircraft Company, founded in 1920 by American engineer Donald Douglas; Northrop Aircraft, founded in 1939 by American pilot John Northrop; and Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, founded in 1929 by American pilot Leroy Grumman. The major European aircraft manufacturer Airbus was founded in 1970.
Today the production of commercial air transport equipment is a multibillion dollar global industry. High-priced aircraft and components are manufactured in countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Most of the final assembly of large jets, a single one of which can cost more than $200 million, is performed in either the United States or France.
The principal aircraft manufacturers today are Airbus in Europe and The Boeing Company in the United States. (A third major manufacturer, the McDonnell Douglas Corporation of the United States, merged with Boeing in 1997.) Two of the three large jet engine manufacturers—the General Electric Company and Pratt & Whitney (a division of United Technologies Corporation)—are also based in the United States. The third is Britain’s Rolls Royce PLC. Other companies based in Brazil, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, as well as in France and the United States, specialize in the production of smaller aircraft used by regional carriers and for general aviation.
F
Future of the Air Transport Industry
The air transport industry has grown enormously in the second half of the 20th century. The number of passengers worldwide grew from 177 million in 1965 to an estimated 3.3 billion in 2000. The number of U.S. airline passengers for the same period increased from 103 million in 1965 to an estimated 666 million in 2000. The U.S. airlines transported their 10-billionth passenger in scheduled service in June 1995, 81 years after the start of scheduled service.
III
COMMON CARRIERS
Common carriers offer scheduled and charter flights to international, national, regional, and local destinations. Depending on the length of the trip and the amount of cargo or number of people to be carried, common-carrier aircraft range from small, single propeller airplanes to large, four-engine jet airplanes.
Several types of passenger and cargo airlines exist in the United States. Major carriers, airlines with annual revenues of $1 billion or more, use large jet transports to provide a combination of short-range and long-range services. National carriers have annual revenues between $100 million and $1 billion. They serve more limited markets than the major carriers, but also mostly use jet aircraft.
Regional carriers are the smallest airlines, with annual revenues less than $100 million. These carriers provide a regional focus to their services, and in many cases their flights are structured to connect with the services of larger airlines. While some of the larger regional carriers operate jet aircraft, most use airplanes with propellers. The smaller regional carriers are often called commuter carriers.
IV
AIR CARGO
Air cargo includes all shipments of mail and freight by air. Government mail contracts were the airlines’ primary source of revenue in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the United States. Freight also moved by plane during that time, notably in the Great Lakes region where the Ford Motor Company flew parts between auto assembly plants.
Relatively little freight was shipped by air until the development of larger aircraft in the late 1930s because smaller planes could not carry much weight. Even in the 1930s airfreight was limited to lightweight commodities such as clothing, high-value items such as jewelry, and time-sensitive items such as flowers, fresh fruit, and machine parts for assembly lines.
Airfreight became a major business after World War II with the spread of international air service and the introduction of large jets with greater lifting capacity. Later, the development of jumbo jets and the acceleration of international trade spurred the industry’s growth. Decisions by many manufacturers to subcontract production to low-cost labor markets and to minimize inventory costs by delivering only what factories needed at the moment meant that the manufactures needed more air cargo shipped more often, benefiting the air transport industry.
There are two basic types of air cargo carriers. All-cargo carriers only deal with freight. Combination carriers carry both passengers and freight.
All-cargo airlines fly freighters, which are passenger aircraft that have been altered for cargo operations. Freighters have no seats or windows in the main cabin. They have larger doors than do planes configured for passenger service, and reinforced floors, many fitted with rollers to facilitate sliding of heavy items. Many modern freighters also have hinged tails or noses that allow for loading large items.
Some combination carriers also use freighters, and some fly aircraft with a main deck that is split into two compartments, one for cargo and one for passengers. Most common carriers, including the major U.S. common carriers, transport cargo solely in the belly space of their passenger jets. Jumbo jets have a huge amount of space in their lower decks.
Shippers usually pay more to ship by air than to ship by truck, rail, or sea. Savings in areas such as inventory costs, damage, and theft often offset the higher airfreight costs. Most air cargo today moves in sealed metal containers that cut down on theft and damage and help make loading and unloading on aircraft faster and easier. Shipping by air over long distances is also much faster than long-distance shipping by other modes of transportation, and thus the only choice for shipments such as express mail, live seafood, and cut flowers.
The air transport industry today handles many types of freight, from computers to live animals. Airplanes do not carry heavy bulk commodities such as coal, iron ore, grain, and oil, so air carriers handle only a tiny percentage of the total weight of worldwide cargo. However, they carry a major share of high-value shipments.
V
GENERAL AVIATION
General aviation encompasses the part of the air transport industry not included in military aviation, common carrier passenger service, or cargo service. It includes recreational flying as well as small-business flying ventures such as aerial photography, aerial advertising, crop dusting, and flight instruction.
General aviation also includes all flying in corporate-owned or leased aircraft, and in air taxis, which provide on-demand services from fixed locations. While much of general aviation is commercial, the companies that offer these many services are not legally defined as common carriers. Their services are provided to select clients at negotiated rates rather than to the public at large, and they do not have the same carrier certification requirements as the airlines. General aviation constitutes about 98 percent of all flying in the United States.
A
History
General aviation became a part of the air transport industry in the mid-1920s. In 1925 the British firm de Havilland introduced the de Havilland Moth, the first plane specifically suited for private flying. A year later, the Air Commerce Act of 1926 instituted licensing requirements for pilots and aircraft in the United States. Traveling pilots, called barnstormers, who earned money by performing aerial acrobatics and providing short-range passenger service, began to offer flying lessons and other aerial services from fixed locations.
In the 1920s Wichita, Kansas, became the center of general aviation and small plane production because of the city’s flat terrain and clear weather. American businessmen and pilots Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, and Clyde Cessna founded the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in that city in 1925 and by the end of the decade were producing 25 percent of all the aircraft being manufactured in the United States. Cessna and Beech later formed Wichita-based companies under their own names. Together with William Piper, who started the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1936, the three became the world’s biggest manufacturers of small planes. William Lear, who developed the highly successful Lear jet, also based his manufacturing in Wichita, in the 1960s.
General aviation aircraft ranges from single-engine propeller planes with a cruising speed of 240 km/h (150 mph) to pressurized corporate jets that travel as fast as and are as sophisticated as big commercial aircraft. Helicopters also are part of the general aviation category. Helicopters today play a major role in search-and-rescue operations, ambulance services, aerial surveying and photography, ground traffic surveillance, and the transportation of crews to and from offshore oil rigs.
B
Trends
Business, or corporate, flying has been one of the fastest growing areas of general aviation since World War II. Private corporate aircraft can land at more airports than commercial jets and often can transport business travelers where they want to go faster and more directly than commercial airlines.
Private recreational flying leveled off in the last quarter of the 20th century as many people became unwilling to make the investments in time and money necessary to obtain and maintain pilot licenses. Also in recent years, U.S. production of small aircraft came to a near standstill as a result of skyrocketing insurance liability costs. Recent changes in U.S. liability laws seem to have turned that situation around, but manufacturers in other nations now hold a significant share of the small-plane market.
VI
ECONOMIC, SAFETY, AND REGULATORY TRENDS
In 1978 the U.S. Congress deregulated the U.S. airline industry, allowing carriers to serve any domestic market and charge whatever they thought the market would bear. This legislation abolished the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), which officially shut down on January 1, 1985. The Department of Transportation took over some of the CAB’s responsibilities. Safety regulation and responsibility for maintaining and operating the air traffic control system remained with the FAA.
Airline deregulation was intended to foster competition in the air transport market and bring better service and lower prices to air travelers and shippers. Numerous academic and government studies have concluded that deregulation has been successful. During the 1980s the major airlines established “hub-and-spoke” route networks, in which an airline uses a few cities as major bases (hubs) and flies to other airports (spokes) from the hubs. These hub-and-spoke networks improved the service and competition to most areas of the country. Airline prices have also declined, when adjusted for inflation, and the new competitive climate has fostered numerous innovations of benefit to travelers, including frequent-flyer programs and computer reservation systems that make it easier for travel agents to shop for and book air travel for customers.
A
Effects of Deregulation on Airlines
For airline carriers, deregulation created both opportunities and dangers because it forced them to operate without a financial safety net, which had set a lower limit for fares, provided by the government. During the 1980s entrepreneurs launched dozens of new airlines—most of which failed—and existing carriers intensified competition by expanding into markets they had not served previously. Numerous mergers occurred in the second half of the decade as carriers attempted to gain a greater share of the market and expand quickly.
Many airlines changed ownership or went bankrupt during the first decade of deregulation. Among the airlines that failed were some of the oldest names in aviation—Eastern Airlines, Braniff International, and Pan American World Airways. By the early 1990s, economic recession, high fuel costs, fears of international terrorism, and a greater number of seats than passengers were causing huge losses across the industry. By the mid-1990s profitability returned for many airlines following intensive cost-cutting and downsizing. Large commercial passenger airlines that remained included United Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and Continental Airlines. Many of the people who had lost their jobs because of airline bankruptcies were again working in the industry, this time for some of the new so-called niche market carriers, which specialized in serving small areas of the market.
Southwest Airlines, a small carrier operating within Texas before 1978, was one of the most successful airlines following deregulation. With its low-fare, no-frills service in short-haul markets, Southwest lured many travelers away from car travel and other airlines, in the process growing into a major airline. Other major successes occurred in the overnight delivery business—a new type of service pioneered by Federal Express Corporation, which developed a hub-and-spoke network for door-to-door deliveries nationwide. Regional airlines flourished, too, expanding their small-plane service into many of the small communities abandoned by the big jet operators.
No-frills service became fairly typical of the industry in the early 21st century after a number of airlines were challenged by a worldwide economic downturn and the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Passenger travel declined precipitously. Nevertheless, with substantial aid from the U.S. government and with layoffs of employees, most of the airlines managed to survive.
B
International Regulation
Unlike U.S. domestic air service, international service remains highly regulated. Service levels between most countries is governed by bilateral aviation agreements that typically specify which cities may be served, the frequency of the service, and sometimes even the total number of seats that can be offered for sale.
Pricing restrictions also are sometimes included in these government-to-government agreements, as well as restrictions on what carriers can do on the ground—for instance, whether they can set up a trucking subsidiary to move freight to off-airport locations. International air service is growing less restrictive, but very gradually.
In the early 1990s the United States negotiated so-called open sky bilateral agreements that place no restrictions on service levels or pricing with several European nations. Those nations are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. In addition, nations belonging to the European Union (EU) have agreed to lift restrictions on all air travel between and within their own countries, making air transportation within the EU more like domestic air transportation in the United States.
C
Safety
Commercial aviation has become significantly safer since the early decades of the industry. This is due in large part to better, more reliable aircraft and engines, as well as better navigation and landing aids on the ground. Most accidents today are due to human error, but training for pilots is becoming more technologically advanced and extensive.
Major advancements in training in recent years include the development of flight simulators that enable pilots to train for adverse conditions and situations that would be difficult or dangerous to replicate in real airplanes. The U.S. government recently applied to regional airlines the same training requirements that apply to large carriers.
The threat of terrorism aboard aircraft, particularly after the September 11 attacks, led to increased security and control over who and what gets on board airplanes. By federal law passengers must walk through metal detectors, and airline luggage is inspected using X-ray technology, drug-sniffing dogs, and other security measures before it is taken on an airplane.

 

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