It’s one of those days when decades later know exactly what they just did with it. Where they were when they found out. And how they then watched live on TV in disbelief, how New York’s World Trade Center towers collapsed, then saw the smoldering ruins of the Pentagon and at the end a crater in a field in Pennsylvania.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are now 20 years old. Politically, they came back to the top of the agenda, not because of the anniversary, but because of the events in Afghanistan – after all, they were the reason for the US military intervention in the country at the time. In the aviation world, September 11 has been a big topic again since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. It is a constant reference: the attacks once triggered the worst economic crisis for American airlines and with it an industry transformation that had major consequences around the world. Now the coronavirus has worsened and governments, especially Americans, are behaving completely differently than in 2001.
2,996 people from 92 countries were killed when two planes from United and American Airlines each crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon and a field. American flight 11 touched down on the north tower at 8:46 am, United 175 touched down on the south tower at 9:03 am. Both were Boeing 767-200s. The American 77, a Boeing 757, crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. United 93, also a Boeing 757, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 am after fighting between hijackers, crew and passengers – with combined forces, crew and passengers alike had to less prevented the aircraft from causing much greater damage to the ground.
The immediate operational consequences for the industry were a thing of the past after a few days. After the complete closure of US airspace, the government quickly reopened it. Sometime after the disaster, Lufthansa named two of its planes Goose Bay and Gander because they had escaped both Canadian airports and the locals looked after them so well while they waited for the connecting flight for several hours. days. To this day, however, the consequences can be felt in other ways. They’re economical – and aviation has been subject to much stricter safety regulations ever since.
American airlines were under pressure in 2001 even before the attacks. The costs of the major network providers had increased by $ 4 billion in the first six months, mainly because they had concluded expensive new collective agreements shortly before the dot-com bubble burst in 1999/2000. At the same time, sales have plummeted. Then the traffic collapsed: in the third quarter of 2002, a little less than a year after September 11, the American industry achieved an estimated turnover of 22 billion dollars less than expected. The US government launched an aid program worth 15 billion, which was however subject to strict conditions and to which airlines could only partially access.
Many airlines did not resist
United Airlines did not last long and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in late 2002. It took over three and a half years to get to 2006 and United cost tens of thousands of dollars to get the job done. Those who were allowed to stay regardless had to work for much less money, and towards the end of the process, with court approval, the company even canceled the pension scheme, a significant part of the benefits. employee retirement pension.
Delta Air Lines and Northwest both filed for Chapter 11 listing on September 13, 2005, almost exactly four years after the attacks. US Airways was even the subject of two bankruptcy proceedings in 2002 and 2004 and merged with America West in 2005. Delta merged with Northwest in 2008, United with Continental in 2010.
American Airlines had taken over the traditional TWA in 2000 after its bankruptcy and was busy operating a group far too large for demand and at far too high costs. Yet American avoided its own restructuring program until 2011. Then, in 2013, it merged with US Airways.
Southwest, the big low-cost airline, was the only big operator to avoid Chapter 11, on the contrary, it took advantage of the crisis of its competitors and was able to significantly increase its market share. Today, Southwest itself is part of the establishment and must battle new rivals who, for their part, want to achieve significantly lower costs and now want to use the weakness of today’s airlines to grow. strongly.
The corona pandemic has replaced September 11 as the biggest aviation crisis, and there is still no end in sight. Governments behave differently. The United States alone has so far injected around US $ 80 billion into the industry in order to maintain the status quo. Further bankruptcies are therefore unlikely for the moment. Internationally, states have supported their airlines to the tune of around $ 300 billion, an amount that could increase further if new virus variants delay recovery.
Armored cockpit doors and armed air marshals
September 11 not only shook the economic base of the American aviation, it also showed that the aviation was not sufficiently protected against attack. Then the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made the cockpit armored doors mandatory, and armed air marshals flew with them. 100 percent of baggage is screened, in 2000 it was only 5 percent. From the passenger’s point of view, flying has become more difficult due to the new requirements. Since then, hardly any authority has dared to abolish provisions once introduced, even if they no longer make much sense.
In this regard, too, the question remains whether governments have learned. In the pandemic, flying has become even more of a nuisance. The debate was about to open on whether only people vaccinated, cured or tested (3G) were allowed to use domestic flights. Airlines have a vested interest in ensuring that many of the requirements go away as quickly as possible. Because the more uncomfortable air travel, the more passengers can be dissuaded from it. Their experiences so far in the pandemic and after the 9/11 attacks do not suggest anything good from their point of view.