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The aviation industry is the global transportation network that carries goods and passengers by air. While air travel was only made possible in the early 20th century, the aviation industry now generates billions of dollars in annual revenue. It also provides essential services to numerous other industries, from medicine and national defense to tourism and sports. The bulk of the worldwide aviation industry is involved with the use and manufacture of airplanes.
Lightweight industrial materials first available in the 1800s allowed for the creation of the earliest aircraft, lighter-than-air devices such as balloons. In 1903, the American Wright Brothers created the first heavier-than-air flying vehicles. Within a decade, airplanes were developed for commerce, travel, and military use, still the major applications for aircraft in the present day. Lighter materials and new technology such as jet engines made planes faster and more efficient in the second half of the 20th century. The business that manufactures specialized aviation parts and equipment is itself a global industry.
Much of the aviation industry is focused on tourism and travel, generating more than $400 billion US Dollars (USD) globally in revenue per year. Air travel means that almost any location on Earth can be reached in a matter of hours, a vast difference from travel options before the 20th century. Although some passengers become anxious and even nauseous due to air travel, airplanes are widely cited as being among the safest means of transport. Some passengers even travel by air for its own sake rather than to reach a destination; examples include hot-air ballooning, skydiving, and helicopter tours.
Another sector of the aviation industry is concerned with the transport of goods. Air freight is much faster than other means of delivering cargo and readily available in most locations. Thus, aircraft play an essential role in providing supplies to various other industries, ranging from entertainment to manufacturing to medicine. Freight companies such as FedEx and UPS have fleets of jet aircraft specially designed for cargo delivery. Delivery of air freight creates $50 billion USD in annual revenue around the globe.
The requirements for safely operating a large fleet of aircraft mean that most major airlines operate on very thin profit margins. Safety is of the utmost concern to all sectors of the aviation industry, especially since 11 September 2001. The air-based terrorist attacks of that date had repercussions that nearly crippled the American airline industry. Heightened security measures since that time have changed the nature of air travel and sometimes proved controversial. Despite these drawbacks, the aviation industry remains an essential part of the global marketplace.