The Importance of Commercial Airplane Transportation for the Global Economy

airplaneDuring the 20th century, the world has become more and more interconnected. Globalization has brought the world together, in no small part thanks to the development of airplanes.

So, just how did commercial aviation globalize the world?

Well, the airline industry hasn’t actually been around for very long, compared to other modern technologies. The very first scheduled flight with a paying passenger occurred on New Year’s Day, 1914. Although in the early years, commercial flights were expensive and uncommon, today, just a little over 100 years later, global air transport moves more than 3 billion people per year.

And in fact, air travel is a massive component of the global economy, both concerning the transport of people and cargo. In 1918, the first paid airmail was established and began to serve as part of the US Post Office delivery service. This eventually developed into the first commercial airmail express delivery service, Federal Express, essentially seeding the idea of overnight delivery, and time sensitive packages. The premium placed on fast, cross-country or even international delivery brought in considerable funding for development of even faster routes. Today, roughly a third of all international trade by value spends time in the air, and some companies like Amazon are even experimenting with drone delivery services. Air travel also made it possible for help to reach developing countries and disaster areas much faster than before.

By the 1960s, Jets had pretty much replaced propeller-driven planes, and the airline industry underwent massive innovation. Passenger jets were made more comfortable, and built to go for much longer distances, ushering in the golden age of travel. The new aircraft were also much larger, bringing down the price, and allowing passengers to travel like they’d never been able to before.

This opportunity saw the intercontinental tourism industry explode, and was one of the first big steps in the globalization of the modern world. Today, travel and tourism are a $7-and-a-half trillion-dollar industry, which is roughly twice the GDP of the entire country of Germany. More than a quarter billion people are employed in the industry, accounting for 1 in 11 jobs on earth. With the continued expansion and deregulation of air travel through the 1980s, budget airlines began to spring up, and competition between airlines led to extremely cheap fares, making it even more common to travel by air. From 1994 to 2004, the number of air passengers rose from 1.3 billion to nearly 2 billion.

Today, the air travel industry is essential and lucrative. During a 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland, many European airports were closed leading to a loss of about $1.7 billion dollars in revenue, and causing roughly 100,000 canceled flights and more than 10 million stranded passengers. Being able to get people and cargo around the world in less time and for less money has made it easy to connect different regions, cultures, and businesses, helping to make the world a global community.

Funnily enough, some of the first airspace laws were passed after a low-flying airplane scared a coop of chickens to death. The laws contained a loophole which drone manufacturers take advantage of today.

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