U.S. airlines' work force on a full-time equivalent basis increased 1.5% from a year earlier in March, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, again rising to a nearly two-year high.
The industry has reported minuscule year-over-year growth in employee counts each month since December, when employment on a full-time equivalent basis, which counts two part-time employees as one full-timer, increased for the first time in 30 months. Carriers' struggles with beaten-down demand during the recession had forced them to take cost-cutting steps such as layoffs but the industry enjoyed a broad recovery last year.
The durability of the sector's rebound has become less clear of late and many airlines have pared capacity plans because of high fuel prices and the impact of March's earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The full-time equivalent employee count was 382,796 in March, the highest since August 2009, according to the department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Network carriers' work force rose 1.5%. Delta Air Lines Inc.'s (DAL) 5% increase was the biggest of the group, followed by US Airways Group Inc. (LCC), which saw 1.1% growth. Alaska Air Group Inc.'s (ALK) namesake carrier posted a 3.4% decline.
Discount carriers Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) and JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) saw work rolls increase 1.8% and 3%, respectively. Overall, the discounters had 2.3% more workers.
Regional carriers' work force was 1.8% higher.
-By Matt Jarzemsky, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2240; firstname.lastname@example.org