Background Note | HBS Case Collection | February 2014 (Revised May 2014)

Flying High, Landing Low: Strengths and Challenges for U.S. Air Transportation

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Aditi Jain and Ai-Ling Jamila Malone

Abstract

The U.S. air transportation system flies high on some indicators, mostly involving capacity to take to the air, but lands low on others, mostly involving ground facilities and processes. This note provides an overview of the history and current state of air transportation in the U.S., covering industry costs; types of airlines, including passenger and cargo (e.g., Delta, Southwest, Alaska, and Frontier); airport issues; and the role of technology. It reviews some opportunities for innovation that will solve the pain points and bottlenecks facing the system and outlines high-priority policy areas. It becomes clear that individual airlines have often been managed back to health and focus on innovation, but the overall system itself and its governmental connections need attention, including the desire for NextGen air traffic control and revisiting Open Skies agreements.

Citation:

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, Aditi Jain, and Ai-Ling Jamila Malone. "Flying High, Landing Low: Strengths and Challenges for U.S. Air Transportation." Harvard Business School Background Note 314-098, February 2014. (Revised May 2014.)