Commercial Air Carriers
"How many crew members does it take to
fly the new Boeing 777? Three. Two pilots
and a dog. The dog's job is to bite the
pilots if they touch anything. The pilots
feed the dog."
Aviation joke making the
rounds in cockpits since 1996
Commercial air carriers are now the most important form of long-distance travel. Hundreds of
millions of passengers and billions of dollars of cargo cross the United States and the globe in
a fraction of the time required by sea vessels, trains, or automobiles. Air carriers are
commonly divided into airlines, cargo operators, and charter operators.
Commercial air carriers are also the safest type of transportation, as measured by miles
flown. Different statistics show that airline flights are as much as 10,000 times safer than
automobile trips for the same distances traveled, and much safer than trains.
Air carriers are also one of the most regulated industries in the world. The Federal Aviation
Administration, the Joint Aviation Authority of the European Union, and countless other
government bureaucracies require airlines to adhere to tens of thousands of pages of
In the United States alone, the air transportation industry generates more than $200 billion a
year. The industry also contributes to world tourism. The world tourism industry, which
generates several trillion dollars a year in revenue, depends on airlines to deliver passengers
to destinations across the world. The scope of this travel would have been impossible in the
days of the train and ocean liner.
Passenger airlines are the most prestigious and significant type of commercial aviation
operation. Hundreds of millions of passengers are carried every year to destinations from
Topeka, Kansas to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Nations once took pride in the size and speed of
their ocean-liners. Now they take pride in the size, number, and speed of their passenger
Airlines are categorized according to the amount of revenue they generate. The United
States Department of Transportation categorizes the sizes according to total revenues from
passengers as follows:
Passenger Revenues Airline Size
Over $1 billion/year Major Airline
Between $100 million and $1 billion/year National Airline
Between $10 million and $100 million/year Regional Airline
Lower than $10 million/year
Major airlines have extensive fleets and route structures. Major airlines in the United States
include: American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, TWA, Southwest Airlines,
Continental Airlines, Alaska Airlines, America West Airlines, and US Airways. Two cargo
carriers in the U. S., Federal Express and UPS are also considered major airlines in some
publications due to their air cargo revenue.
Competition between major airlines for the flying public is keen. Profitability is difficult due to