Don't start an airline if you want to be rich

Unless you are the CEO, I guess.

From the American Government Accountability Office (pdf) comes this chart of revenue, expenses, and profit in the US aviation industry:

Revenue in the industry has grown almost non-stop for the last 40 years, but expenses have more than kept pace. Only for a brief period in the 1990s did it look like flying passenger planes might make money, but that was derailed by the 2001 crash. As Matt Yglesias comments:

Some things that work as technology don't work as a business model. The Concorde was like that. An engineering marvel that couldn't make money. But... basically the entire passenger aviation industry in the United States is like that.

It's worth remembering as well that international flight isn't much better. Most of the industry is dominated by nationalised (or recently privatised) prestige carriers which can't be allowed to go bust due not only to their stranglehold on their domestic markets, but also through simple national pride. What would be interesting to see is whether that's a cause or an effect.

After all, if the all-encompassing British Airways had gone bust one of the first seven or eight times it ought to have in a proper market, perhaps the rise of the low-cost carriers (who do in fact make a profit from flying planes) could have happened a bit earlier. Or maybe government intervention was the only thing which allowed the aviation industry to mature enough that anyone could make a profit at all.

(via Richard Layman)

A Lufthansa plane takes off from Frankfurt. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.