The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is forecasting that it could take years for global air freight volumes to return to 2008 levels, saying there are no signs yet of the global downturn easing.
"These are extremely challenging times for airlines. There are no signs of an early recovery," IATA said.
The gloomy outlook follows a 16.5 per cent slump in cargo volumes and a drop of 7.2 per cent in passenger numbers in June compared to the same month a year ago.
June's performance means that air cargo traffic has declined for 13 straight months on a year-on-year basis amid weaker consumer demand and a switch by some exporters to the less expensive mode of transportation, ocean freight.
"Airlines are seeing international revenue falls of up to 30 per cent at the start of the busy June-August period when airlines traditionally make their money. The outlook remains bleak," said IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani as reported by Reuters.
"At the current pace, it (air freight) will likely take several years before demand returns to early 2008 levels," IATA said.
It's a sentiment echoed by Drewry Shipping Consultants' ports director Neil Davidson who does not expect sea freight volumes to return to 2008 levels until at least 2012.
IATA estimates airlines will lose US$9 billion in 2009 following a loss of $8.5 billion in 2008. The industry body pointed to further risks this year of rising oil prices and fears of swine flu dampening passenger demand.
IATA noted that some signs of increased activity in China and other Asian nations in June were wiped out by weakness in Europe and North America where consumers "choose to repay debt rather than increase spending."