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Airlines need to get their act together

It is hard to know if the Wright brothers are turning in their graves because of the state of the airline industry or if they are celebrating what their creation has evolved in to.

It was 99 years ago this month that Orville took off in the Kitty Hawk to become the first person to keep a powered aircraft in the air long enough to record a controlled flight. It was one of four flights he and brother Wilbur took that day.

Less than 60 years later, not too many people believed John F. Kennedy when he said men would walk on the moon.



Since 1903 we have seen men land on the moon and explore its craters, people are living months on end in the International Space Station, satellites are launched to do all sorts of things, shuttles go up and back on a regular basis, and exploratory robots have milled about Mars.

Today people think nothing of booking a flight and jetting off to destinations near and far. If only it were that easy for an airline to stay afloat financially.




Losses this year are expected to be close to $9 billion industrywide. United, the second-largest U.S. airline, and US Airways, the fifth biggest, are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Both hope to emerge as thriving businesses but no one is holding their breath.

A report by Unisys, a transportation consultant, said major carriers like United, Delta and American are on target to lose more money in 2001, 2002 and 2003 than they made in the previous nine years. Tensions with Iraq and the possibility of a war make the forecast for next year bleak.

What is so appalling about the financial fiasco the airline industry finds itself in is that it is heavily subsidized by the federal government. In a free market society this seems preposterous.

There needs to be more oversight into why companies are practically being given a blank check. Are the shareholders benefiting, while the taxpayers are getting the raw end of the deal?

Last year as of Oct. 18, the most up-to-date statistics provide by RecoveryWatchdog.org, the federal government had paid out $2.43 billion to 111 airlines. The top nine airlines received 83 percent of that cash.

For years none of the big carriers did anything about operating a company in an efficient manner. There was an overexpansion in the 1990s.

And then there was the upstart — Southwest Airlines — that turned heads and made executives at the bigger, more established companies take notice. Southwest’s success, along with JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways profitable bottom lines, are examples of how to make it in today’s world.

Sept. 11 and a lackluster economy are keeping people off planes and ticket prices low — an odd combination.

Nonetheless, the airline industry needs to take responsibility for the situation it is in. Long before terrorists brought down the Twin Towers, the state of the airline industry was gloomy.

The government needs to think about not giving out any more handouts. It is time the airlines figured it out for themselves. In the end it would be better for individuals to pay for a higher ticket than for all taxpayers to pay the price to keep an airline in the air.


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