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Who's the Largest Airline?

Financial facts and competition comparisons

by Ruth Venning and Christine Cedusky 

Our Times, December 1999
United claims to be the largest carrier in the world, but what does that mean?  By industry standards, the airline with the most capacity, or available seat miles (ASMs), is defined as the world's largest carrier.

"Compared to any other carrier, United has more seats on aircraft that fly longer distances," explains Chuck Dvorak, manager-Performance Analysis.  "For the passenger airline industry, the main product is capacity, or ASMS. In that respect, United has the largest "factory" of ASMs year after year.

"Fortunately," adds Dvorak, "United also does the best job at filling those ASMs with customers."

In terms of revenue passenger miles (RPMS) - one revenue passenger flown one mile - United is on top again.

Second place for annual ASMs and RPMs goes to American Airlines and its wholly owned regional carrier, American Eagle.

United also is the largest carrier of passengers and cargo in the United States, flying nearly 3 billion cargo ton miles in 1998 and 2.2 billion year-to-date through September 1999.  Freight accounts for 75 percent of United's cargo shipments, with mail making up the balance.

For total revenues* year to date through September 1999, United and American capture the top two spots among the 10 major U.S. airlines.  American Airlines reports $14.6 billion, while United posts $13.5 billion.  However, at $12 billion, United is slightly ahead of American in passenger revenues for January through September 1999. (Financial results for the full year are calculated first quarter 2000.)

United's not the largest when it comes to fleet size. American, together with American Eagle, reports having 892 aircraft as of September 1999.  United is scheduled to have 593 aircraft by December 1999.  Even though American has more airplanes, United still has higher ASMs and RPMs because it has larger planes that fly longer distances.

As for employees, American and American Eagle have approximately 109,240 employees.  United surpassed 100,000 employees in December 1999.

*Total revenues include dollars from regional carriers, and other subsidiaries and interests, and are affected by many factors, including labor strikes in the industry.  United Express revenues are not included in United's figures.