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U.S. Airlines Shrinking Employee Ranks

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With more layoffs yet to come, U.S. passenger airlines employed 394,300 people in October, the lowest total in 15 years, the federal government said Thursday.

October’s numbers are down 5.6 percent, or nearly 24,000 jobs, from a year earlier.

The numbers will only get worse in the next few months as the airlines complete the layoffs and system shrinkage they had announced last spring and summer.

According the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the decline in jobs is hitting all levels of airlines – major network carriers, low-cost carriers and regional airlines, with the major network carriers such as American Airlines Inc. and United Airlines Inc. showing the largest declines.

United led the list with 5,200 fewer full-time equivalent employees in October compared with a year earlier, dropping 9.9 percent to 47,200. American employed 2,900 fewer people, down 4 percent to 70,400, the bureau said.

“At this time, our current [staffing] reductions will end at the end of January,” American spokeswoman Tami McLallen said Monday. “But depending on the economy, other schedule reductions may be necessary.”

Delta Air Lines Inc., which merged with Northwest Airlines Inc. in November, showed a 2,700-employee drop, or 5.6 percent, to 45,700, while Northwest was down 1,500 employees, or 5.1 percent, to 27,700.

Among the nation’s 10 largest passenger carriers, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co., JetBlue Airways Corp. and Alaska Airlines Inc. reported an increase in their workforces.

Southwest added 1,790 employees, or 5.3 percent, to 35,700 full-time equivalent employees, the most growth of any of the 31 carriers that the bureau tracked in October.

JetBlue saw its workforce increase 560 employees, or 5.7 percent, to 10,400, and Alaska added 100 employees to 9,900.

Although airline employment decreased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a number of airline bankruptcies, the numbers had slowly grown in 2006 and 2007 as carriers rebuilt their operations.

However, the soaring price of jet fuel prompted most carriers this year to slash capacity beginning in the summer.

Even traditionally fast-growing carriers such as Southwest and AirTran Airways have reined in growth plans.

Carriers announced that they would eliminate tens of thousands of jobs related to the capacity cuts, and many of those job cuts are yet to come.

For example, United, which said it would eliminate 7,000 jobs, expects to cut 1,200 of those positions in early 2009.

American, which said it would eliminate more than 6,500 jobs, has already slashed thousands of positions but is still working its way through the list of people who want to accept voluntary leaves or buyouts.

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