Geneva - Airlines are on course for one of their toughest ever years, top industry association IATA warned on Thursday as the global slump sent air cargo into free fall and slashed passenger growth.
Figures for 2008 from the International Air Transport Association showed a 1.6% increase in passenger traffic, "dramatically down" from 7.4% the previous year.
In December alone, international air travel dropped 4.6% over the same month in 2007, while air freight tumbled more than 22% as the decline that set in during the final months of last year accelerated.
Over the full year, international cargo traffic fell 4.0%, reversing previous growth, IATA said in a statement.
"2009 is shaping up to be one of the toughest ever years for international aviation," IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said.
"The 22.6% drop in international cargo traffic in December puts us in uncharted territory and the bottom is nowhere in sight. Keep your seatbelts fastened and prepare for a bumpy ride and a hard landing," he said.
IATA groups 230 airlines covering more than 90% of scheduled international air traffic, with the exception of exclusively low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet.