Kuala Lumpur - The world's airlines are expected to lose nine billion dollars this year, industry body IATA said on Monday, describing the current crisis as worse than the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
The losses - almost double an estimate made just three months ago - will come on the back of an estimated $80bn drop in carriers' 2009 revenues due to plunging passenger and freight demand despite lower fuel costs.
"There is no modern precedent for today's economic meltdown. The ground has shifted. Our industry has been shaken," said Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association.
Carriers in all regions are expect to report losses in 2009, with Asia-Pacific airlines - once the brightest spot of the industry - accounting for more than a third of the global total at $3.3bn.
"This is the most difficult situation that the industry has faced," Bisignani said in a speech to industry leaders at the 65th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit in Kuala Lumpur.
He called for greater liberalisation in the industry and warned that higher oil prices resulting from speculation when the world economy recovers could add further pain to the airline sector.
In March, IATA had forecast 2009 losses at $4.7bn, but it was forced to drastically raise the figure as well as revise 2008 industry losses up to $10.4bn, from an earlier estimate of $8.5bn.
Bisignani said the impact of the global financial and economic crisis was worse than that of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
After the attacks, global airline revenues tumbled by 7.0% and it took three years for the industry to recover despite a strong global economy, he said.
"This time we face a 15% drop - a loss of revenues of $80bn - in the middle of a global recession," he said.
The industry is expected to generate $448bn in revenues this year, down from $528bn in 2008.
"Our future depends on a drastic reshaping by partners, governments and industry. We cannot bear the cost of government micro-regulation, crazy taxation and partners abusing their monopoly power," the IATA head said.
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, played down the forecast.
"Where did he get the figures? He is just estimating," he said, adding that his company was still determined to order 200 new planes from 2009 to 2017 in addition to the 84 now in its modern fleet.
Zhang Lin, vice director-general of China Southern Airlines, was still optimistic that his company would post growth this year.
"We experienced two-digit growth last year. This year it will be one-digit growth because of the recession," he said.
The airline industry has been among the worst hit by the economic crisis, which struck in the third quarter of last year after a US mortgage crisis spun out of control.