The history of American flight is generally one of pride and wonder. Historical figures associated with the first airplanes are generally revered by history books and society as a whole. These are figures like the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and others who most agree made a positive impact on human life and symbolize a leap of mankind towards advanced technology and increasing modern times. Modernity. Technology. These are all things that airplanes and flight represent to Americans and they're widely viewed as things which have improved life on this planet for the better. This begs the question as to why the airline industry still remains one of the most volatile, low (or no) profits business around. The book, Why We Can't Make Money in Aviation, by Adam M. Pilarski, seeks to both scrutinize and illuminate the general failure of the airline industry to reach stable and consistent profitability. While some might say the text is heavy handed, it actually represents as a whole, a fair and comprehensive overview of the airline industry, its attributes and shortcomings.
The Ten Plagues
Pilarski opens the text of the book in a smart and succinct manner. Pilarski calls attention to the most catastrophic event to happen to the airline industry in its entire history: the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While Pilarski does give those events the acknowledgement for being as detrimental to the industry as they were (in fact, he even offers up a fact that most Americans aren't aware of: that government had a bailout plan for the airlines, in fear that the entire industry would go under and cease to exist), he does eliminate any and all illusions about the incident. One of the most effective elements of the text is that Pilarski does not waste any time specifying what he refers to as the ten plagues: these are all events that happened more or less in succession that have had essentially a crippling impact on the auto industry. Pilarski begins to state each plague immediately. The first plague Polarski highlights is the recession, a plague which is definitely not to be underestimated by any means. The recession was definitely global and the impact was pervasive: companies downsized, unemployment was up, house sales plummeted, foreclosures sky-rocketed, and consumer confidence in the economy was at an all time low. Because of the recession, "Traffic was down by midyear of 2001 and average passenger ticket prices were already falling" (2007, p. 2).
However, the combined fear of flying and increased security measures proved to be a truly detrimental combination: "A fear of flying set in after the 9/11 tragedy which further reduced profitability as passengers avoided air travel and traffic numbers dropped. Then security measures implemented to keep flying safe caused an increase in the actual time of completing a journey and in the unpleasantness of the experience" (Pilarski, 2007, p.2). The phenomenon is akin to bicycle helmet laws: once the laws go up regarding bicycle helmets: "The most significant result of a helmet law is to discourage cycling. That's because many would rather quit biking than have to wear a helmet, and because a law promotes the idea that cycling is an incredibly dangerous activity. Reductions in cycling by 33% to 50% are typical in places where helmet laws have been passed" (Bluejay). With airlines, once security measures became more intricate and involved, and thus, more unpleasant to the experience as a whole, it gave the entire act of flying the appearance of being unsafe, reinforcing the fears of 9/11.
Just as Pilarski highlights the detrimental combination of fear+increased security measures, he makes a similar connection between uncertainty+ wars overseas (2007). Pilarski reminds one how air travel dropped during the Gulf wars in 1991 and the years surrounding, and that U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan did not bode well for the airline industry. "People were afraid of flying not because of specific threats, but because of the increased atmosphere of uncertainty" (Pilarski, 2007, p.2). While it may be easy to forget in 2012, the atmosphere at the start of the 21st century, on the tails of 9/11 was riddled with doubt and uncertainty. "The war in Iraq has made things worse for the airline industry that was already reeling with financial problems. Just this week, American Airlines narrowly avoided filing for bankruptcy, and U.S. Airways emerged from Chapter 11, after cutting a billion dollars in costs...One…