An Auburn University professor who studies air quality says airlines may actually be safer than other public places when it comes to catching illnesses such as the H1N1 flu. Commercial aircraft draw about half their air from outside and purify the cabin's air supply using HEPA filters. The top-to-bottom airflow in an airline cabin also tends to localize the germs from passengers' coughing and sneezing. "The unique design of the air system in an airplane really does minimize that exposure compared to what you would see in a similarly densely populated place such as a theater or a classroom," says Tony Overfelt, whose studies are funded by the FAA.
The Air Transport Association reports a 21.1% drop in air cargo shipments for the first quarter of 2009, the worst showing ever for U.S. carriers. But there were signs of a turnaround amid the bad news. For the first time since October, ATA saw a month-to-month improvement in cargo numbers, with traffic increasing 11.7% from February to March.
BusinessWeek says the changing fortunes of banks, lessors and aircraft manufacturers could fundamentally alter the airline business. From mega-mergers to international ownership, experts say the industry could be headed for tumultuous times. "We have in this business been able to fund long-term losses with outside capital -- and that is going to be harder to do in the future," warns US Airways CEO Doug Parker.
After decades of steady growth and solid job security, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly admits it is hard to convince employees that times are changing at the company. Kelly says both workers and leadership have been slow to buy the no-growth strategy, though he estimates he is now "70% along the way" in selling his plan. From pilots to ground operations, everyone is adjusting to the new realities. "I wouldn't say morale is in the toilet, but everybody's anxious to get back to a positive growth mode," says Carl Kuwitzky, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association.
US Airways and Alaska Airlines both reported lighter traffic and fuller planes in April, continuing a trend that has Wall Street investors bullish on an industry turnaround. Capacity cuts appear to have caught up with declining demand, according to MarketWatch, which says that factor could signal a possible end to deep discounting of ticket prices.