Airline Weekly Lounge

Interview: Airlines for America’s Chief Economist

October 17, 2019

Back in the aughts, Airlines for America's Chief Economist John Heimlich often showed a slide with an alarming statistic: Coffee giant Starbucks' market capitalization was more than that of the entire U.S. airline industry combined. So much has changed in the last 10 years, as the airline industry recovered from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, SARS, and oil prices of $148 per barrel, among other trials and tribulations.

Skift Airline Weekly Editor Madhu Unnikrishnan and Heimlich had a chance to catch up at the Boyd Group's International Aviation Forecast Summit in August. Unnikrishnan reminded Heimlich of that slide and asked him if those turbulent times could return. Heimlich explained how the industry has changed: different management, improved aircraft technology, and consolidation being among the most important factors. But he warned that the airline industry is uniquely exposed to exogenous shocks, like geopolitical turmoil, weather, and the price of oil.

The airline industry is continuing to evolve, with new aircraft technology, like the Airbus A321 XLR, making low-cost, long-haul a better business proposition, Heimlich said. But will anyone crack that low-cost, long-haul code? And what about small-community air service in the U.S. and Canada, now that airlines have retired or are in the process of retiring their smallest aircraft?

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