One of the most-voiced complaints about deregulation is that airlines have been consistently unprofitable since deregulation. That’s not true, according to this handy chart from a 2006 Government Accountability Office report [PDF].
As you can see, airlines were only narrowly profitable in the era of regulation. After regulation, they became exposed to economic forces, making them — like most other industries — profitable during good economic times and less so during recessions. The airline bottom line was hit by the 1980, 1981-82, 1990-91, and 2001 recessions. The final one’s impact was exacerbated by 9/11. Even with the current challenges of the industry, it’s not possible to say that airlines simply can’t make money in a deregulated environment. Those who propose some measure of reregulation should make clear what they want: for airlines to be protected from the economic cycles and competitive pressures that almost every other industry faces.