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Passenger Airline Employment

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Mid-September 2020 U.S. Passenger Airline Employment Down More Than 6,000 FTEs from Mid-August

Release Number: 
BTS 79-20
Date: Monday, November 16, 2020

The 23 U.S. scheduled passenger airlines employed 1.5% fewer full-time equivalents (FTEs) in mid-September 2020 than in mid-August 2020:

  • Mid-September’s total number of FTEs (404,869) was down 6,307 FTEs from mid-August 2020 (411,176 FTEs) and down 56,728 FTEs from mid-March 2020. Mid-September was the lowest FTE total for any month since February 2016 (403,917 FTEs).
  • Mid-September FTEs were down more than 47,000 FTEs, a 10.5% drop from mid-September 2019 (452,138 FTEs).  

Regulations require U.S. airlines to report employment numbers for employees who worked or received pay for any part of the pay period(s) ending nearest the 15th day of the month. U.S. airline employment reports are filed monthly with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See the tables that accompany this release on the BTS website for detailed data since 2015 (Tables 1-15) and industry summary monthly data since 1990. Airlines receiving funds under the CARES Act were prohibited from layoffs or furloughs until Sept. 30.

(Full-Time Equivalents)
September FTEs in thousands (000)
1990466.0
1991445.8
1992449.5
1993442.3
1994426.8
1995430.5
1996440.6
1997454.8
1998476.0
1999501.1
2000524.9
2001517.7
2002468.7
2003430.4
2004440.1
2005413.7
2006403.5
2007416.1
2008397.3
2009379.9
2010378.3
2011385.8
2012383.7
2013380.2
2014384.5
2015397.3
2016414.6
2017428.7
2018442.0
2019452.1
2020404.9
Notes: 

FTE calculations count two part-time employees as one full-time employee.

Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

All 23 scheduled service passenger airlines (mid-September)

  • 404,869 FTEs
  • Down 10.5% (47,269 FTEs) from September 2019 (452,138 FTEs)
  • Down 2.3% (9,689 FTEs) from September 2016 (414,558 FTEs)

Four network airlines (mid-September)

  • 249,565 FTEs, 61.6% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Down 13.3% (38,174 FTEs) from September 2019 (287,739 FTEs)
  • Down 8.3% (22,571 FTEs) from September 2016 (272,136 FTEs)
  • Down 1.1% (2,665 FTEs) from mid-August 2020 (252,230 FTEs)
  • Down 14.3% (41,644 FTEs) from mid-March 2020 (291,209 FTEs)

Network airlines operate a significant portion of their flights using at least one hub where connections are made for flights to down-line destinations or spoke cities. Note that beginning with January 2018 data, Virgin America’s numbers are included with Alaska Airlines in the network category.

Five low-cost airlines (mid-September)

  • 93,584 FTEs, 23.1% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Down 3.3% (3,200 FTEs) from September 2019 (96,784 FTEs)
  • Up 11.0% (9,300 FTEs) from September 2016 (84,284 FTEs)
  • Down 3.6% (3,537 FTEs) from mid-August 2020 (97,121 FTEs)
  • Down 5% (4,947 FTEs) from mid-March 2020 (98,531 FTEs)

Low-cost airlines operate under a low-cost business model, with infrastructure and aircraft operating costs below the overall industry average.

10 regional airlines (mid-September)

  • 53,399 FTEs, 13.2% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Down 10.2% (6,039 FTEs) from September 2019 (59,438 FTEs)
  • Up 5.4% (2,722 FTEs) from September 2016 (50,677 FTEs)
  • Down 0.0% (16 FTEs) from mid-August 2020 (53,415 FTEs)
  • Down 14.7% (9,168 FTEs) from mid-March 2020 (62,567 FTEs)

Regional carriers typically provide service from small cities, using primarily regional jets to support the network carriers’ hub and spoke systems.

Top Employers by Group

  • Network: American        100,684 FTEs
  • Low-Cost: Southwest       57,931 FTEs
  • Regional: SkyWest           17,152 FTEs

Four other airlines

Other carriers generally operate within specific niche markets. They are: Hawaiian Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Silver Airlines and Eastern Airlines.

Reporting Notes

Airlines that operate at least one aircraft that has more than 60 seats or the capacity to carry a payload of passengers, cargo and fuel weighing more than 18,000 pounds must report monthly employment statistics.

Data are compiled from monthly reports filed with BTS by commercial air carriers as of Nov. 4.  Additional airline employment data and previous releases can be found on the BTS website. BTS has scheduled release of October passenger airline employment data for Dec. 11.

Updated: Monday, November 16, 2020