Industry Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that job growth in the airline industry will experience slower than average to average growth through 2028. Nevertheless, the employment outlook is brighter for some areas of the industry. There should be favorable opportunities in the realm of regional and non-scheduled, and in general aviation. A marked growth in the world's population should also mean a rising number of passengers and a subsequent demand for more flights. Pilots for cargo carriers will also be in great demand as more materials are shipped around the world on a daily basis, and as service models such as just-in-time delivery require expedited shipment.

Prospects differ depending on the job. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts minimal employment growth for aircraft mechanics and technicians, as airlines continue to outsource this type of work to third-party companies. Air traffic controllers will experience slower than average growth, with most opportunities arising due to retirements, while employment of airline and commercial pilots is predicted increase by about 6 percent through 2028. However, flight attendants will experience faster than average growth, as airlines replace smaller aircraft with larger planes. Airplane manufacturing is projected to have a stable outlook in the next decade, and there will be continued need to develop new models of fuel-efficient aircraft, particularly as airlines' older fleet are retired. Professionals such as engineers and managers, in particular, should be in great demand in this area.

Many small airports have gone out of business in recent years, and many more are expected to fail, especially those unable to keep up with advancements in technology as they become standard in FAA regulations. As the industry developed the hub-and-spoke services, some airports have seen dramatic decreases in air traffic; others, particularly larger airports, have seen a boom in the number of flights and passengers they handle each year. These airports will continue to require large numbers of employees. Airport employees will have to undergo security checks and complete more rigorous training in order to comply with new government safety and security regulations.

The FAA is in the process of completing its transition to a new air traffic control system, known as NextGen, scheduled to be complete by 2025. Many of its computers, state-of-the-art in the 1960s, are less powerful than most personal computers today. By 2019 the FAA had implemented the infrastructure needed to bring the National Airspace System (NAS) up to date, including a new Traffic Flow Management System, En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), and Time Based Flow Management. With more and more airlines adopting global positioning system (GPS) equipment, the need for tight air traffic control will be eliminated. The role of the air traffic controller may one day be reduced to provide assistance during potentially dangerous and emergency situations. Strong growth will be seen in the number of jobs related to computer development and operation.

Safety was a pressing concern heading into the 2020s. In October 2018, 189 passengers were killed when a Boeing 737 Max 8 (Lion Air flight JT 610) crashed into the Java Sea. A crash involving the same type of aircraft (Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 to Nairobi, Kenya) claimed another 157 lives in March 2019, prompting countries around the world to ground the aircraft as investigations unfolded. After fixing the software pertaining to the aircraft's anti-stall system, Boeing hoped to gain FAA approval to return the 737 Max 8 to service by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, many of the world's airlines sought compensation from Boeing to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue from canceled flights.

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 had an overwhelming effect on the airline industry, contributing to an estimated net loss of more than $80 billion for airlines across the world. Many such companies restructured or ceased operations completely. Those that managed to weather the storm made drastic changes to their operations by greatly reducing capacity, mortgaging aircraft, or scaling back luxury travel experiences. Passenger volume in the U.S. in July 2020 was down 75 percent from the same period in 2019. In order to avoid burning through their cash reserves completely, many airlines became highly leveraged with total debt projected to have increased 50 percent throughout 2020.