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Market entry and the impact of low-cost carriers on competition in the US airlines industry

  • In the current difficult climate for international aviation especially in Europe and the USA, one sector is performing extremely well, the so-called low cost carriers. While the flagcarriers are experiencing severe difficulties, withdrawing from routes and cutting staff, the low cost sector continues to expand at a tremendous pace. Since their entry in various countries in the late 90’s, low cost carriers have grown to even become dominant players on a significant number of intra-national short haul routes. Although the severe competition of low-cost airlines is observable in many industrialized countries nowadays, our focus in this paper will be restricted to the US market which at many levels appear to be interesting and the perfect case to illustrate the impact of low-cost carriers on the domestic aviation market. The extent to which this expansion affects the traditional airline networks in other terms the so-called legacy or network carriers, poses interesting questions for the US airline industry and policy makers. As a pre-requisite to analyze the current situation of the US airline market with regards to the impact low-cost carriers, it is crucial to have a historical background on the domestic US aviation and to understand the role of antitrust policies. First of all, until 1978 the US airline industry was regulated by the US government, allowing only few carriers, the network carriers. Those carriers are therefore the historical carriers. The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) was the economic regulatory body for airlines that controlled airline schedules, fares, and routes, which essentially allowed U.S. airlines to exercise monopoly power. In 1975, the CAB’s Special Staff did a self-study of the organization and concluded that the amending federal law to eliminate “protective entry, exit, and price control” would be beneficial for the airline market. It was believed that the industry was naturally competitive and there did not appear to be any significant barriers to entry nor substantial economies of scale that would limit the number of efficient and profitable firms. Therefore, the Airline deregulation Act of 1978 eliminated economic regulation of the airline industry. The deregulation allowed many carriers to enter the industry, existing carriers to expand their operations, competition to flourish and air fares to fall. Monopoly markets were now only present on the smallest city-pair markets which lacked enough traffic to support more than one airline. After deregulation, Southwest Airlines initiated the budget flight in Dallas, Texas. With flights turning profitable in 1973 and remaining so ever since, former lawyer Herb Kelleher proved the viability of low cost flights. In terms of passengers carried each year, Southwest is now the biggest airline in the USA and the second biggest airline in the world. Although entering the airline industry was relatively easy, successfully overcoming the advantages of larger incumbents proved to be more difficult. The deregulation greatly illustrated the relevance of Paul Gerdoski’s arguments about the effect of market entry. Firstly, market entries increased industry competition and forced the traditional network carriers to increase their efficiency leading to lower fares and better service on many routes. Secondly it fostered industry innovation with the appearance and growth of low cost carriers.

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Author:Amandine Njonkou
Advisor:Daniel Cerquera
Document Type:Bachelor Thesis
Year of Completion:2016
Granting Institution:Hochschule Furtwangen
Release Date:2016/04/11
Degree Program:IBM - International Business Management
Licence (German):License LogoUrheberrechtlich geschützt