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America Needs a National Airline Policy

Did you know that every 100 airline jobs helps support about 360 jobs outside the industry? In fact, commercial aviation enables 11 million U.S. jobs and generates 5 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product. As the CEO of an airline, I find these figures important. Why should they be important to you? Because they underscore the role that airlines play in the overall health of our economy. 

It’s hard to identify a single sector that doesn’t benefit either directly or indirectly from strong and healthy airlines. Driving more than $1 trillion in national economic activity every year, a stable airline industry is good news for travelers and for the economy as a whole. Yet, surprisingly, there is no comprehensive government policy in place to support us. For an industry so vital to our  nation’s economy, government policies that are supportive and effective are more than a basic need; they’re a critical imperative.

The United States needs to replace its current patchwork of counter-productive operating policies, taxes and fees (which can comprise as much as 20 percent of the cost of a domestic roundtrip ticket), oppressive regulations, and antiquated infrastructure with a National Airline Policy that will enable our country’s airline industry to reclaim its mantle as the global pacesetter. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is headed in the right direction with its NextGen air traffic control initiative. The majority of air traffic in the U.S. is currently managed with technology from the 1950s, resulting in longer flights, less efficient use of air space, increased fuel consumption, delays, and congestion. NextGen is a modernized, satellite-based system, which, if implemented properly, will allow aircraft to fly more directly and efficiently, thanks to its GPS backbone. 

The FAA working with airlines to accelerate NextGen’s implementation would be a huge step toward an effective National Airline Policy. While we have made some progress to implement NextGen in our nation’s air traffic control system, we need the federal government to do more to bring the infrastructure into the 21st century. The good news  is that some tools and technologies are already in place in modern jet aircraft—including the vast majority of Southwest Airlines’ fleet of Boeing 737s—that deliver immediate benefits for airlines, passengers, and the environment. (Southwest has already updated cockpit configurations and trained our Pilots on NextGen procedures.) But we need the FAA to help expedite the progress.  

To learn more about the challenges facing the aviation industry and what you can do to help, visit airlines.org.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed a name change in this magazine. Spirit is now Southwest: The Magazine. It’s a small way of expressing our pride in what we do. And rest assured: The spirit is still very much here.


Gary Kelly

Chairman, President, and CEO

Southwest Airlines



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