After two dismal years, the nation’s six largest carriers are expected to increase seating capacity by as much as 4 percent next year, analysts said.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines will experience some of the most aggressive growth. The airline expects to increase its capacity by 7 percent in 2004, despite removing 57 aircraft from its fleet.
The growth will extend to the carrier’s mainline routes and its American Eagle regional subsidiary, airline officials said.
Economic improvements, competition against low-fare rivals, and increased international traffic are creating the new growth, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in its Sunday editions.
The expansion could spark more competition, which analysts say could put fares at the lowest in decades.
The potential fare reduction, while good for passengers, is a concern to airlines.
“This kind of growth is going to assure that [airfares] are maintained at their present, unsatisfactory levels,” said Morton Beyer, an airline industry analyst and consultant at the Morton Beyer & Agnew consulting firm in Arlington, Va. “I don’t see much relief coming in that area.”
While major airlines will grow anywhere from 2 percent to 4 percent next year, analysts say low-fare airlines, such as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, could expand more than 10 percent next year.
Small regional airlines will probably grow more than 30 percent, they said.
It’s a major change from the days after Sept. 11, 2001, when major airlines slashed their networks by as much as 20 percent and ordered unprecedented staff layoffs.
American — the world’s largest airline — plans to create growth by scaling back the “More Room Throughout Coach” program and by adding seats on a fourth of its fleet. More international flights also will be added.
In addition, it will shift flights from its St. Louis hub to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Chicago and streamline hub schedules, which means planes will spend more hours in the air. The moves add capacity without adding aircraft, said Henry Joyner, American’s vice president for planning.