Darwinian theory may have worked its will in the railway industry, where only six big outfits remain in North America. But it seems to have been stymied in the airline industry.
Forty or so years ago, there were dozens of major railways in North America. Remember the New York Central, the Pennsy, the Erie Lackawanna, the New Haven, all now long gone? Or, how about the Southern Pacific, the Western Pacific and the Chicago and Northwestern? Long gone as well.
But the airline industry? Well, that’s another story. If Wikipedia, for example, can be believed, there are now 5,000 airlines that have registered with the International Civil Aviation Assc., the United Nations agency that sets standards for global air transport.
And although not all of these 5,000 outfits boast worldwide networks, as well as phalanxes of jets, there are likely dozens that actually do. The result? A fiercely competitive industry in which profit margins are wafer-thin.
Why the glut of air carriers worldwide? Hubris, probably. Each country, no matter how small and how poor, obviously thinks it’s nothing without its own national airline. At least that’s the thinking of an airline industry analyst to whom I spoke several years ago.
But North America has known no plethora of national egos. And although it does boast 50 states, 10 provinces and three territories, none seems to think its self-esteem will take a beating if it doesn’t have its own railway.
The result has been an ineluctable movement toward consolidation, amalgamation and rationalization — especially along the Eastern Seaboard, where double trackage has been cut back to single track, or where hundreds of miles of trackage have simply been torn up. or just abandoned. In fact, if Canadian Pacific Railway hadn’t been derailed in its recent efforts to merge with Norfolk Southern, there would now be one less big road in North America!