From First Flight to 889 Million Passengers

On the 80th National Aviation Day, the industry looks stronger than ever

By Jeff Martinelli

Published August 19, 2019

Read Time: 2 mins


For Orville Wright, it was 12 seconds that changed his life. For the rest of us, it was the moment that would make the world more connected and create one of the world’s largest industries.

Monday, Aug. 19 – the 148th anniversary of Wright’s birth – is the 80th National Aviation Day. What Orville and his brother Wilbur did on that first flight in December 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, set the stage for what is now a booming travel and tourism economy.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a record 889 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines in 2018, a 20 percent increase from 2014.

The numbers at Pittsburgh International mirror that growth; for the same period, PIT’s overall traffic increased about 21 percent. And while the traffic grows, so do the choices passengers have when selecting airlines and destinations.

“In 2014, we had fewer airlines and fewer destinations,” said Bryan Dietz, vice president of air service development at PIT. “Airlines serve markets, and when those airlines offer different and new routes at affordable prices, the public will respond.”

A record 889 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines in 2018. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

The landscape of airlines and routes certainly has shown a dramatic change over the past five years. While legacy carriers such as American, Delta, and United and original low-cost carriers Southwest and jetBlue remain, ultra-low cost carriers such as Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier have made a clear impact on how passengers are spread among the airlines.

For example, in 2014 four airlines – American (including U.S. Airways), Delta, Southwest, and United – accounted for 91.9 percent of the passengers. Those same airlines accounted for 82.6 percent of the passengers in 2018.

Last year, passengers on Spirit, jetBlue and Frontier made up 10.2 percent of the total traffic. To put it in better perspective, that’s a total of almost a million passengers.

Allegiant, which began service at Pittsburgh International Airport with three destinations in 2015, now serves 14 after its recent announcement of year-round service to Palm Beach, Fla. That total is surpassed only by Southwest.

“We’re thrilled with our new service to Palm Beach International,” said Drew Wells, Allegiant vice president of planning and revenue. “We know local travelers will love having a convenient, affordable option for a warm Florida getaway this winter.”

We don’t know what you’ve got planned for National Aviation Day, or if you were even aware. But if you ask anyone in the aviation biz, they’ll tell you that the best way to recognize this holiday is to keep on flying.

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