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© 2007-11, William Swelbar.

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U.S. Airline Management and Labor: The World is Smirking at US

On Thursday of this week, I have the honor of addressing the ACI-NA (Airports Council International - North America) International Aviation Issues Seminar ACI-NA :: Meetings And Conferences :: Calendar of Events in Washington, DC.

What great timing. Because the fact is, as carriers across the world are changing their business models to respond to the new global aviation market, U.S. carriers are far behind the ball in making the changes necessary to compete.

I won’t use this space to preview my speech, but there are a couple of points I’ll use that lectern to address.

For one, and as I referenced in an earlier post about the Dubai Air Show on November 13, 2007, click here I find it troubling that the vast majority of the orders for new aircraft are coming not from U.S. carriers, but from carriers operating in previously obscure regions of the world. They are the ones that will be on the leading edge as our markets are exposed to increasing competition from foreign carriers. Is the US being relegated to a supporting role in tomorrow’s global aviation market?

Julie Johnnson of the Chicago Tribune weighed in on just this subject in her “must read” that ran on November 25,2007 click here. It offers an insider’s view from a global carrier on the U.S. airline industry, from the labor battles to many carrier’s struggle to maintain identity in a changing marketplace. I read between the lines that we may be winning some battles but are sure to lose the war if we do not address the competitive deficiencies of the U.S. legacy carriers that compete for the international passenger.

And so to labor. So much energy and time is devoted to management-labor skirmishes that’s it is no wonder that foreign carriers are moving forward while we look back. Whereas Qantas has taken advantage of weaknesses and structural change in its home market to succeed, we appear in no shape to do the same -- despite a known outcome for some.

Perhaps it is time for the U.S. carriers – management and labor alike and together – to stop focusing on the small battles and begin to plan for the big one: maintaining, and even expanding, market share in an increasingly competitive global industry.