For the U.S. airlines, a few moments of terror last Tuesday are on the verge of turning into a colossal, unprecedented setback for the entire industry.
Commercial flights have gradually resumed in the days since four airliners were simultaneously hijacked and crashed Tuesday, with two of the planes destroying the World Trade Center in New York and one hitting national defense headquarters at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
But the stocks of the major airlines plummeted badly in heavy trading today, and this afternoon US Airways announced it will lay off 11,000 employees and reduce its flight schedule by 23 percent.
"The tragic events of September 11 have had a dramatic effect on the nation's aviation industry, including US Airways," said the carrier's president, Rakesh Gangwal, in a statement issued after the stock market closed. "As a result of reduced passenger demand as well as the ongoing requirements of new security procedures, US Airways has no choice but to reduce the number of its daily flights."
Two smaller carriers also announced cutbacks. America West will eliminate 2,000 jobs and American Trans Air will lay off 1,500 employees.
On Saturday, Continental Airlines announced it was laying off 12,000 employees, while warning it might have to file for bankruptcy in October. And Continental, along with United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, is saying it may reduce its flight schedule by up to 20 percent, in the face of expected weak demand in the future.
Meanwhile, the stocks of major airlines and travel-related companies fell sharply today as Wall Street mirrored the industry's intense concern about the economy in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks.
Among the major carriers, American Airlines fell 39 percent, Continental Airlines dropped 49 percent, Northwest Airlines fell 37 percent, United Airlines dropped 43 percent, and US Airways was hit the hardest, plummeting 52 percent.
The unprecedented situation has members of Congress discussing the terms of a possible financial bailout for the industry, with the bill potentially coming to tens of billions of dollars.
Even before the terrible day on Wall Street, airline industry leaders were calling for government intervention to help the industry make it through the bleak times ahead.
"If you want to have an air transportation system in this country that can get the economic engine running again, you're going to have to do something," said Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune on ABCNEWS' This Week Sunday morning.
"Without aid from the federal government, then we would absolutely have to consider employee reductions," Delta Air Lines CEO Leo Mullin added Sunday, also on This Week.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is scheduled to meet with airline industry leaders Tuesday to discuss the situation.
Logistical Problems and Fear
Reduced demand, more expensive security measures and possible liability lawsuits related to Tuesday's hijackings could all serve to greatly increase the airlines' financial woes.
Already it appears that it will take a long time before the U.S. airlines return to the level of service they had before the attack: 2 million passengers a day on 40,000 domestic flights alone.