NEW YORK — U.S. airlines’ work forces shrank by 2.7 percent in May from a year earlier, the government said Tuesday, marking the 23rd straight month in which airline employment has declined.
U.S. airlines are hesitant to resume hiring despite the improving economy, choosing instead to build up cash reserves. However, many carriers around the world expect to hire gradually over the next year as passenger numbers continue to improve.
U.S. airlines have laid off thousands of workers in the last year as the economy sputtered. They’re also shifting more jobs outside of the U.S. where labor is cheaper.
Scheduled passenger airlines employed 377,000 workers in May, 10,500 less than a year ago. Since the recession began, passenger airlines have cut one out of every 10 U.S. workers. Airline employment peaked at 419,700 in December 2007, the month the recession officially started.
The May figures are the latest government statistics available, but more recent data from airlines shows payrolls continuing to shrink.
Delta said Monday it now has $6 billion in cash, up one-third from a year ago. United Airlines parent UAL Corp. said its cash doubled to $5.17 billion from a year earlier.
The total number of full-time Delta employees fell 1.3 percent from a year ago to 81,916 at the end of June. Delta said it will hire more airport customer service and reservations agents.
UAL finished the second-quarter with 42,600 full-time equivalent employees, 2.7 percent lower than a year earlier. The government counts two part-time employees as one full-time worker.
The six major network airlines — United, American, Delta, Continental, US Airways and Alaska — together employ about two-thirds of all scheduled U.S. passenger airline employees.
The International Air Transport Association, an industry group representing global airlines, said Tuesday that most airline executives it surveyed expect to slowly increase their payrolls in the next 12 months, although it will likely be slowly as airlines try to keep costs under control.