I recently overheard a discussion in which it was claimed that the airline industry has generated more losses than profits when we take its whole history into account.
This is basically a repeat of Warren Buffet's claim in 1999:
Here's a list of 129 airlines that in the past 20 years filed for bankruptcy. Continental was smart enough to make that list twice. As of 1992, in fact--though the picture would have improved since then--the money that had been made since the dawn of aviation by all of this country's airline companies was zero. Absolutely zero. Sizing all this up, I like to think that if I'd been at Kitty Hawk in 1903 when Orville Wright took off, I would have been farsighted enough, and public-spirited enough--I owed this to future capitalists--to shoot him down. I mean, Karl Marx couldn't have done as much damage to capitalists as Orville did.
That claim was still being repeated in 2006 in the Guardian:
It is often said that no one has made a profit from running an airline since the Wright brothers first took to the sky. Peter Morrell, a professor specialising in air transport economics and finance at the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield University, points out that this is not entirely true, as Ryanair and easyJet make money, as do some Asian carriers; in the US, however, airlines have made an overall cumulative loss over the past 120 years. Flying has always been about a kind of pig-headed denial of observed reality.
I wonder if this claim is true? Does it hold for both the US and the worldwide airlines?
(Note the claim is about the airlines themselves, and not about, for example, aircraft manufacturers.)