Numbers don't lie -- leave that to the
people who misuse and manipulate them to their own ends -- but they
can be misleading when they only reveal part of the picture.
Consider the Air
Transport Association's monthly report on passenger traffic on its
member airlines, which account for more than 90% of the traffic on
U.S. carriers. The latest monthly report also includes the totals
for all of 2006.
The numbers show how
much the major airlines have been growing their international
service. For example, the airlines put nearly 5% more capacity on
international routes in 2006 than they did in 2005. ATA members
added the most international capacity, 8.6%, on Atlantic
The figures for
domestic traffic, however, are trickier to decipher and may be just
as notable for what's missing.
The numbers show
significant to dramatic declines in domestic departures,
enplanements and capacity, especially when compared with
But the figures do
not include service by regional affiliates. That didn't matter much
in the past.
But most major U.S.
airlines have been shifting their domestic capacity to those
affiliates in recent years to better match aircraft size to demand
and concentrate more on international service.
The number of
domestic passengers on U.S. regional carriers nearly doubled from
2000 to 2005, and the amount of traffic on them, as measured by
revenue passenger miles, nearly tripled, according to government
That's why the ATA
figures seem to show that domestic airline scheduled service still
has not returned to 2000 levels, while more complete but less
timely government figures show the service actually returned to or
passed 2000 levels by 2004 or 2005, depending on which measurement
The more complete
annual and monthly U.S. airline traffic information available from
the government, and more specifically its Bureau of Transportation
Statistics, is one reason why the ATA has decided to stop
publishing its monthly traffic figures after its next report
covering service in January.