We are developing in this country an upstairs-downstairs air transportation system. Downstairs is the commercial airline industry, constricting, retrenching, ever more expensive to fly and struggling for survival.
Upstairs, for those who can pay the price, is business aviation, thriving and expanding. In the first quarter of this year, shipments of business jets were up 41 percent over the same period last year. In 2007, a record 1,138 business jets were shipped by manufacturers, up 28.4 percent from the 866 shipped in 2006.
Add those numbers to these, released last week by aviation consulting firm Stanford Transportation Group, and you will start to understand one basic dilemma of the commercial airline industry:
In 2000, commercial airlines flew 79 million so-called premium passengers (defined as those flying first-class, business-class and full-fare coach) on one-way domestic trips. Last year, despite a sharp increase in overall passenger traffic, that number was 42 million. Premium passengers, incidentally, account for about twice the revenue per passenger mile as nonpremium passengers.
In the same period, the estimated number of passengers flying one-way trips on business aircraft climbed steadily to 17 million last year, or 41 percent of the total number of commercial airline premium passengers. In 2000, it was a mere 15 percent.