Rising costs reshaping air travel across the USA

But today's fuel price crisis threatens to be a much more enduring and difficult problem.

There are no simple fixes to the unprecedented jump in prices, up 60% in April over April 2007.

Oil industry analysts say it could be years before new oil supplies can be tapped, new refineries built or alternatives to petroleum-based fuel developed and produced in enough quantities to fuel the airlines, which launch 30,000 flights a day. A wide-body jet gulps 30,000 gallons or more at every fill-up.

Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who thought last year's run-up in oil prices would fade, has reversed course. BP Capital Management, Pickens' energy-oriented hedge fund, is investing based on his belief that prices will rise to $125 a barrel soon, then move past $150.

This week, the head of OPEC, Algerian oil minister Chakib Khelil, told reporters that oil likely is headed to $200 a barrel and there's nothing the cartel can do to stop it.

He said forces other than the amount of crude oil pumped out of the ground are driving up prices.

Oil prices closed at $113.46 a barrel Wednesday after peaking at just under $120 Monday.

Even if they were to drop an unlikely 30%, average prices would remain historically high. And there's little chance they would fall much, because of the relentless demand from China, India and other fast-growing economies.

For decades, "Air travel has been one of the incredible bargains for U.S. consumers," says Tom Horton, American Airlines' chief financial officer.

"We're now in a world where airfares are going to have to reflect the cost of the product."

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