Opinion: Op-Eds

America's airlines are improving service, investing heavily for the future

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Transportation,Op-Eds,FAA

In the midst of the holiday travel season, more Americans are flying this year, driven in part by the emerging U.S. economic recovery.

In fact, Airlines for America's winter travel forecast projected that 44.3 million customers would fly on U.S. airlines during the 21-day period from Dec. 16 through Jan. 5.

The great news for travelers is that airfare remains a bargain and airlines are delivering strong on-time and baggage-handling performance. The uptick in air travel is good news, not just for consumers but for the overall economy.

Commercial aviation helps drive more than 10 million jobs and $1 trillion in annual economic activity. Three decades ago, this was not the case.

Back then, air travel was accessible to far fewer Americans. It was expensive and difficult to access beyond urban areas.

However, today, flying costs less, is more customizable for customers and is a viable option for communities across the U.S.

When adjusted for inflation, consumers paid approximately 37 percent less for domestic air travel in 2012 than in 1982.

At the same time, according to the Department of Transportation, in the first 10 months of 2013, U.S.-based airlines completed 99 percent of scheduled flights and posted on-time arrival rate of 79 percent.

Meanwhile, customer satisfaction is high with DOT-registered complaints at just 1.16 for every 100,000 passengers — the best rate in four years.

Of course, the democratization of air travel has brought with it many challenges. The airlines are addressing these challenges through sound investments that improve the flying experience and stimulate economic growth.

These investments have significant benefits for air travelers. Despite modest profits, airlines are investing in modernized aircraft and airport facilities, premium seating, in-flight Wi-Fi and entertainment, improved mobile technology, new bag systems and ground equipment for operational reliability and more.

The investments are real. Airline capital expenditures at the 10 largest U.S. passenger airlines have more than doubled from $430 million per month in 2010 to $965 million per month in 2013.

Additionally, U.S. carriers plan to reinvest approximately $32 billion in capital improvements over the next three years, further demonstrating the direct link between consistent industry profitability and the benefit to airline customers, employees, investors and the overall economy.

In order to build on this important progress, Airlines for America has proposed a National Airline Policy that includes key pillars to further enhance the customer experience and help the industry continue to grow.

Those pillars are rationalizing the tax and regulatory burden, modernizing the air traffic control system, enhancing global competitiveness, and mitigating high and volatile fuel costs.

This policy has been crafted with the goal of improving the passenger experience and enhancing the economic contributions made by the airline industry.

Our nation’s policymakers should look to the airlines as a source of economic growth, not easy revenue.

As travelers board their flights this holiday season, they should know that the airlines and their employees are ready to make their journeys safe and efficient with expanded choices and bargain costs.

Despite the enormous stresses placed on the industry, we are serving our customers well and looking forward to enhancing the flying experience even more in the future.

Editor's Note: This op-ed is a response to the Washington Examiner's five-part series, Not-So-Friendly Skies, published earlier this month.

Sean Kennedy is senior vice president for global government affairs for Airlines for America, a trade association.
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