The air-transport business flourished almost immediately after the invention of the aircraft in 1903, especially as a mail and passenger service. The industry blossomed in the postwar era, with the United States having the advantage because, unlike Europe, it did not suffer many wartime civilian aviation restrictions. Today, airlines transport freight and passengers largely through partnerships with other airlines as cost-saving measures.
Embraer, Bombardier, Airbus, Boeing and Tupolev are the major aircraft builders, producing civil freight and passenger planes to the world's airline companies.
Airlines, ranging from Ryanair to American Airlines, specialize in passenger and fright transport in specific areas such as intercontinental, domestic and international services.
Air transport experienced its most significant boost since the early postwar era with the introduction of the jumbo jet, most notably the Boeing 747, in 1969, allowing airlines to function more economically and at greater capacity.
The United States deregulated the airline industry in 1978, leading to airfare wars, startup freight and regional passenger transport, and the decline of some major carriers, such as Pan Am.
Low-cost airlines by the late 1990s ruled the skies by offering low fares unmatched by the larger, more-established carriers, thus allowing passengers of any income to travel.
By 2008, rising fuel costs, competition from low-cost carriers and a severe worldwide recession forced airlines to slash airfares, eliminate routes and send planes into the air with less-than-full capacity.