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Major turbulence ahead for airlines

Industry officials and analysts urge Washington to act to avert a collapse.

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics/Rich Clabaugh–STAFF

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America's aviation system could be at risk of collapsing by the beginning of next year.

That warning from aviation experts has prompted some industry leaders to call for re-regulation, something considered almost heresy until now. Others are urging Washington to do more to rein in the oil speculators pushing up fuel costs.

But there is agreement among airline officials and analysts that Washington and the two presidential candidates need to recognize the severity of the crisis and take some action now to avert an economically crippling collapse in the near future.

"Unless something is done to move toward some kind of fix, we're going to see every one of our major airlines in bankruptcy," says Robert Crandall, former chairman of American Airlines. "If that isn't enough of a crisis to alert everybody, then I don't know what it will take."

As a result of the spike upward in oil prices, almost every major airline is now losing millions of dollars each quarter.

Unless the price of oil comes down, most are expected to run out of cash by the end of this year or the beginning of next. In a bid to stave off bankruptcy, they're already retrenching. They plan to lay off an estimated 25,000 employees, park hundreds of planes, and cut the number of flights they offer.

In addition, a recent study by the Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel managers, estimates that 100 regional and 50 major airports nationwide will lose some of or all their air service by the end of the year.

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