US Airways cut almost half of its work force
By: Karen Ferrick-Roman - Times Staff
US Airways has nearly cut its work force in half since the golden days, before terror swept the skies on Sept. 11, 2001.
In a report issued this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation, all seven major airlines, or legacy airlines, lost employees between April 2001 and April 2005, but none at a bigger rate than US Airways.
Staffing levels at twice-bankrupt US Airways plummeted by 49.5 percent, from 44,192 in 2001 to 22,294 in 2005.
"That's how they're reorganizing, by becoming smaller," said aviation analyst Michael Boyd of The Boyd Group of Evergreen, Colo.
United Airlines, which entered bankruptcy shortly after US Airways' first foray into protection and has stayed there, cut its employees by 42.4 percent, from 96,428 in 2001 to 55,529 in 2005.
Overall, the eight legacy airlines lost about 147,550 employees, or 34 percent of their work force.
The report, said Pat Litzinger, finance professor at Robert Morris University, "certainly seems to confirm what everybody believed about the airline industry."
The study also showed low-cost carriers, such as Southwest, America West and AirTran, added about 10,800 workers, growing by about 18 percent in the four-year period.
Low-cost carriers, Boyd said, are expanding. Some airlines on that list, such as Independence Air, didn't even exist before 9/11.
But Boyd said he tires of the chant that "legacy carriers are dying, and low-costs and regionals will pick it up."
"If legacies are dying," he said, "regionals will go with them."
United and US Airways remain in bankruptcy. Some analysts have said Northwest and Delta are dancing on bankruptcy's brink. All of the legacy lines have been losing money annually.
If the legacies die, Boyd said, "about 40 percent of the airports in the country won't have air service."
Low-cost carriers are picky about where they land.
"They don't go to little markets anymore," Boyd said. "If anybody thinks a low-cost carrier is going to rush into Erie, they're nuts. They're only going to relatively large markets."
An even larger growth for the four years was shown in regional carriers, such as Air Wisconsin, the former United Express carrier with an investment in US Airways and a shot at some routes; Mesa, which supplies crews and planes to America West and US Airways; and US Airways' subsidiary PSA.
In the four years, 14 regional airlines grew by about 85 percent, adding 26,057 workers, the report said.
"It might be logical to assume that this growth went along with the decline in the major carriers," Litzinger said.
"It certainly would seem regionals are flying more people because you wouldn't need (more) personnel unless that were the case."
It's simply outsourcing, Boyd said. He took umbrage even with the listing.
"They're neither regional nor airlines. You cannot book a seat on Chautauqua Airlines," Boyd said. "Regional airlines, as they call them today, are really just vendors and crews to major airlines.
"They stopped being airlines 10 or 15 years ago," he continued. "They're leasing companies; they're not a separate part of the airline industry.
"For the DOT to put out this study, it's ridiculous to say, 'The airline leasing companies are making money too.' "
Karen Ferrick-Roman can be reached online at kroman@timeson line.com.
©Beaver County Times Allegheny Times 2005