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that aircraft were suddenly more productive.
As the airlines acquired more and better jets, they roared through the decade of the 1960s
on a rising tide of technological improvements that brought the safety and economic efficiency of air travel to new heights.
It was an era of aeronautical euphoria. By the end of the decade, we were on the moon
and test-flying both the supersonic Concorde and the mammoth 747. Could it get any better than this?
It did, but not by much.
Further gains in efficiency, range and reliability eventually enabled twin-engine aircraft
to safely cross the wide Pacific, but nothing yet has produced the kind of kick that the first
The 1970s brought an era of diminishing returns. Despite the excitement surrounding
the launch of Concorde service in 1976, the industry was stagnating.
Deregulation was in the air, and in October 1978, precisely 20 years after the inaugural jet
flights of Pan Am and British Airways, it arrived.
Tourism had blossomed in the jet age, and air travel blossomed again after deregulation,
as carriers expanded to new markets. Low-fare carriers sprang up, and an intrastate airline
in Texas, called Southwest, tested the national stage.
The bewildering variety of new airlines, routes and rapidly changing fares sent consumers scrambling to their travel agents. In the years following deregulation, the number of
agency locations in the U.S. increased by annual rates ranging from 8% to 11%. Airline
traffic made similar leaps. America was binging on airline tickets.
MIL T PRIGGEE
But there were clouds
on the horizon.
survival strategies, including questionable
mergers. Many new
entrants, and several
premier carriers, didn’t
survive the shake-out,
among them Pan Am,
Eastern and TWA.
And traffic growth
began to overwhelm
the air traffic control
system. Delays became
By the mid 1990s, the airlines were looking for new ways to cut costs and turned their
attention to distribution, eventually eliminating base commissions to travel agents. When
the Internet arrived, they jumped on it.
U.S. airlines survived the colossal damage of 9/11, but they are once again on the ropes,
reeling from years of losses, punishing fuel prices and another downturn in the economy.
The future of commercial aviation seemed limitless 50 years ago. Today, it’s all about
limits, constraints, hassles.
It needs another breakthrough. Whether in technology, finance, regulation, labor relations, distribution or all of the above, the airlines need the equivalent of what the jets gave
them 50 years ago: another revolution, another kick. — Bill Poling
The jet age begins in earnest with
Pan Am’s first regularly scheduled
707 service from New York to Paris,
followed a day later by service from
London to New York by British
Airways’ precursor, British Overseas
Dulles Airport opens 26 miles west of Washington.
With a wide buffer zone of open space, it was the first U.S. airport
designed specifically for jets. The award-winning design of the terminal
building, by architect Eero Saarinen, became an icon of flight.
Forty years ago, most international airline fares and services were set
by agreement. Getting agreement on whether to show movies, and how
much to charge, required an IATA meeting of 39 airline representatives,
including 21 airline presidents. Prior to the meeting, IATA’s executive
committee opined that in-flight entertainment is “not in the best
interests of the industry or the traveling public.” In the end, the
majority agreed to impose a $2.50 surcharge on users of audio and
video equipment, both in first class and economy.
The U.S. airline industry’s annual passenger boardings top
100 million for the first time.
The International Association of Machinists goes on strike at
United Airlines, shutting down the nation’s largest airline for 43 days.
50 years of U.S. airline passengers enplaned
Pan Am launches the widebody era, inaugurating 747 service
from New York to London.
Internatio nal flights
Source: Air Transport Association of America