American Airlines CEO talks future of aviation industry


Drew Gerber/The Daily Northwestern

Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, speaks Monday night about the future of the aviation industry. More than 400 people attended the lecture, which was hosted by the Northwestern University Transportation Center.

Drew Gerber, Reporter

The CEO of American Airlines said Monday night the increase in mergers between airline companies will lead to more competition and better experiences for passengers in the long run.

Doug Parker spoke about trends and troubles in the aviation industry at the 34th annual William A. Patterson Transportation Lecture, hosted by Northwestern’s Transportation Center.

Parker said airlines are still struggling to transform following the airline industry’s deregulation by the federal government in 1978. Prior to this, he said, airlines were treated as a public utility, but now function more like private businesses. However, he said American Airlines is leading the industry out of its lengthy transitional period.

Referring to the series of mergers within the industry since 2005, Parker said, “(The recent period of consolidation) has us now in the position where I believe I’m close to being able to say the transition’s complete. We still have things to do, but here we are now … where the industry’s reporting record profits.”

Mergers and alliances are necessary measures the industry must take in order to provide customers with quality flying experiences, Parker said. American Airlines is in the process of integrating its operations with US Airways, which signed a merger with American Airlines in 2012 to create the American Airlines Group, Inc.

In addition to speaking broadly about trends affecting the airline industry, Parker spoke about his personal experience at the helm of one of the largest airline companies in the world.

More than 400 students and industry specialists gathered to listen to Parker’s presentation and to ask him questions on topics ranging from industry economics to security issues to Parker’s personal leadership style.

The NUTC, which was created in 1954, aims to educate and lead research on all modes of transportation. The annual Patterson Lecture, named for United Airlines’ former president William A. Patterson who was a life trustee at the University, brings transportation industry leaders to share personal experiences and knowledge with the NU community.

Parker also said the airline industry is still regulated in ways that other businesses are not, such as monitoring of customer services, but he foresees additional deregulation that will lead to more improvements in the industry.

The industry hopes to see regulatory changes, Parker said, in a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is expected to come before Congress this year. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 expires at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

Evanston resident David Soto-Karlin works in communications and film production and attended the lecture because of the airline industry’s impact on his job.

“I am constantly traveling for film production,” Soto-Karlin said. “So I need to know about changes in the airlines and how it could affect me.”

He said Parker’s lecture was informative, but he learned the most from Parker’s discussion of his own experience leading American Airlines.

Brendan Diamond, the communications coordinator for NUTC, said the annual Patterson lecture provides a great opportunity for business, technical and engineering students to interact with industry leaders. Diamond also emphasized the importance of NUTC’s interdisciplinary research in transportation technologies.

“It’s very exciting to learn the business side of things, to learn how they’re planning to make money on these technologies, but also what the actual technical expertise is needed to make these technologies,” Diamond said.

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