Airline Traffic Continues Record Highs

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Air traffic continued its eighth year of uninterrupted growth, says Department of Transportation data for the first half of 2017. U.S. airlines carried 414 million travelers in the first six months of 2017—361 million on domestic flights and 54 million on international flights—for growth of 14.7% from a post-recession low in 2008. Load factor—the proportion of seats filled on the average flight—remained essentially unchanged at 84% for domestic flights and 80% for international flights. Revenue passenger miles for U.S. airlines reached a staggering all-time high of 469 billion for the first half of the year.

Despite assertions by regional airlines that pilot shortages are starting to result in flight cancellations, overall capacity is still growing. Systemwide available seat-miles, a measure of total flight capacity, grew at roughly the same rate as revenue passenger miles, reaching its all-time monthly maximum of 97 billion in June. Continued multiyear growth in airline traffic, combined with a surge in age-mandatory retirements, is creating unprecedented pressure on the market for pilots. Horizon Airlines, the primary regional for Alaska Airlines, has reported a need to cancel some flights due to an inability to hire and train pilots to replace those being hired by the majors.

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