During the week just passed, the airline industry quietly marked the 35th anniversary of the Airline Deregulation Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on Oct. 24, 1978.



After all that the airline industry has gone through and put us through in the years since, there isn't much to say on the occasion of the 35th that wasn't already said on the 10th, 20th or 25th.

We've reached the point when most of today's airline managers, employees, agents and customers came of age after deregulation became a fact of life. It is what it is.

And yet observers of a certain age can be forgiven if they occasionally express amazement over some recent airline industry trends and happenings, including the apparent arrival of serious financial traction among the major carriers.

A few days before the official birthday last week, Delta, in some respects our leading airline, reported a Q3 net profit of $1.4 billion on total revenue of nearly $10.5 billion, operating a fleet of 724 aircraft at a load factor of 86%.

Nobody on either side of the debate remotely anticipated these kinds of numbers in 1978, but if they are indicative of success at Delta, then some share of the credit has to go to the deregulators.

So we'll say it one more time: Happy Anniversary.

October is a busy month for our in-house historian, who reminds us that last week also marked the 55th anniversary of the first edition of Travel Weekly, as well as the first transatlantic 707 flights by Pan Am and BOAC (British Airways), generally regarded by historians as the beginning of the jet age.

It also happens that we have just completed 26 years of on-time performance reporting by the nation's airlines, under a disclosure requirement imposed by the Transportation Department (DOT) in 1987.

Alas, not everything gets better with age. Airline on-time performance, judging by the DOT's latest report, isn't much better now than it was then.

Next month we mark the 10th anniversary of the final flights of the Concorde, the industry's first and only supersonic airliner. It was an aircraft of superlatives, but in the decade since its retirement we've gotten no closer to a next-generation SST.

Research continues here and abroad on ways to address the Concorde's shortcomings (sonic boom, high fuel consumption, limited range), but we are years away from an actual aircraft. In fact, it's beginning to look like supersonic air travel will skip a generation, perhaps two -- which, in retrospect, makes the Anglo-French achievement even more remarkable.

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