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Visualizing the World’s Largest Airline Companies

Through most of its history, the commercial airline industry has had a somewhat turbulent relationship with investors.

For example, during the span of 2003-2011, the three major U.S. carriers (American, United, and Delta) all filed for bankruptcy, and this was subsequently after merging with other large airlines (US Airways, Continental, and Northwest) that each had their own solvency issues.

Despite the rough ride a decade ago, just last year the industry raked in $35.6 billion in profits – a record-setting amount according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Even legendary investor Warren Buffett is flying high on airline stocks at the moment, and he’s recently floated the idea of buying a whole carrier for Berkshire’s portfolio.

Comparing Airlines

Today’s graphic comes from Reddit user /u/takeasecond and it uses data from the Forbes Global 2000 list to plot the world’s largest publicly-traded airlines in terms of revenue, profit, assets, and market value.

It provides some interesting insights on the industry, showing some unexpected carriers leading the way.

Visualizing the World's Largest Airline Companies

There are four companies that stand out instantly on the chart. Air France-KLM and Cathay Pacific are both easy to spot, but for the wrong reasons. They are to the left of the $0 profit line, and Forbes has their most recent net incomes listed as -$309 million and -$162 million respectively.

In the upper right corner, Delta Air Lines appears to be one of the healthiest companies by many measures. It ranks second in sales ($42B) and profitability ($3.5B), and comes out on top in terms of assets ($54B) and market value ($37B).

Finally, to the bottom right is Southwest Airlines – it has the highest profitability ($3.6B) but is able to do it at far higher margins than the rest of the pack.

Ranking Profitability and Sales

Here are two of the most important metrics – revenue and profit – for the 10 publicly-traded airlines with the most sales:

RankAirlineRevenue ($B)Profit ($B)Margin
#1American Airlines$43.0$1.94.4%
#2Delta Air Lines$42.1$3.58.3%
#3Deutsche Lufthansa$41.5$2.86.7%
#4United Continental$38.3$2.25.7%
#5Air France-KLM$29.1-$0.3-1.1%
#6International Airlines$26.0$2.38.8%
#7Southwest$21.2$3.617.0%
#8China Southern$19.7$1.05.1%
#9All Nippon$17.8$1.37.3%
#10China Eastern$15.7$0.85.3%
Note: Margin is calculated based on Forbes’ numbers above

In recent months, the IATA has revised its outlook for 2018 after originally forecasting record-setting airline revenues again.

The organization now sees profits falling to $33.8 billion, a 12% decrease on its original forecast.

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