After a decade of multibillion-dollar losses, U.S. airlines appear likely to profit for years for a simple reason: They are flying less.
By grounding planes and eliminating flights, airlines have cut costs and pushed fares higher. As the global economy rebounds, travel demand is rising and planes are as full as they've been in decades.
The government says profit margins at big airlines are the highest in at least a decade. The eight largest U.S. airlines are forecast to earn more than $5 billion this year and $5.6 billion in 2012.
U.S. airlines are in the midst of reporting fourth-quarter results that should cap the industry's first moneymaking year since 2007.
The Air Transport Association says U.S. airlines lost about $60 billion and eliminated 160,000 jobs from 2000 through 2009.