- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. airlines have cut jobs for two straight years, the government said Wednesday, as accelerating layoffs and outsourcing sped up a downward slide that started in 2001.

The industry now has lost one of every four U.S. employees it had a decade ago — before the last two recessions and the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics said the level of U.S. airline employment in June was the second-lowest in 20 years. In that same time period, annual passenger traffic has jumped about 65 percent.

Job losses at U.S. airlines have picked up since 2008 because the recession forced carriers to cut thousands of jobs here and ship more overseas. The industry has lost 54,000 jobs, or 16 percent of its work force, in the past two years.

Faced first with soaring fuel costs and then a slump in travel demand between 2007 and 2009, airlines dropped routes that weren’t profitable. For passengers, there are fewer flights to choose from, so planes are fuller. Diminishing staff and the fuller flights are adding to the stress among flight attendants, pilots and other workers.

The April-June period was financially the best for U.S. airlines in three years, as the combination of fewer seats and more travelers allowed them to raise fares.

So far, they’ve resisted the temptation to boost their fleets at the first hints of improving demand. That’s good for the airlines’ bottom lines, but also evidence that hiring will continue to be slow going.

Instead of hiring, U.S. airlines are building up cash reserves and looking for a continued increase in passenger numbers and more than one quarter of profits before they boost their ranks.

That echoes what’s happening in other industries. U.S. company job openings overall fell for the second straight month in June, a sign that hiring isn’t likely to pick up in the coming months.

The data, also released Wednesday, comes after a report Friday that showed businesses aren’t adding enough new workers to bring down the unemployment rate, currently 9.5 percent.