The latest international scheduled traffic statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show that in the month of December global international cargo traffic plummeted by 22.6 per cent compared to December 2007. For the full-year 2008, international cargo traffic was down 4 per cent compared to 4.3 per cent growth in 2007. Â¡Â°The 22.6 per cent free fall in global cargo is unprecedented and shocking,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATAÂ¡Â¯s director general and CEO. “There is no clearer description of the slowdown in world trade. “Even in September 2001, when much of the global fleet was grounded, the decline was only 13.9 per cent,Â¡Â± he added. Air cargo carries 35 per cent of the value of goods traded internationally.” The collapse in the airline industryÂ¡Â¯s freight business is a reflection of 20-30 per cent declines in export and import volumes being reported across Asia, North America and Europe as the global recession plumbs new depths in December, according to IATA. Asia-Pacific carriers, accounting for 45 per cent of international cargo, led the December decline with a 26 per cent contraction compared to the previous year. Latin American carriers saw cargo drop 23.7 per cent; North American carriers 22.2 per cent and European carriers 21.2 per cent. Single-digit declines were recorded by Middle Eastern carriers down 9.2 per cent and African carriers who saw an 8 per cent drop. Â¡Â°2009 is shaping up to be one of the toughest years ever for international aviation. The 22.6 per cent drop in international cargo traffic in December puts us in un-charted territory and the bottom is nowhere in sight. Keep your seatbelts fastened and prepare for a bumpy ride and a hard landing,Â¡Â± said Bisignani. International passenger traffic meanwhile, suffered a less significant fall, in part bolstered by year-end advance-booked leisure travel, passenger traffic declined 4.6 per cent in December compared to a year earlier. For the full year, passenger traffic grew modestly by 1.6 per cent. Â¡Â°Airlines are struggling to match capacity with fast-falling demand. Until this comes into balance, even the sharp fall in fuel prices cannot save the industry from drowning in red ink,Â¡Â± said Bisignani. Â¡Â°Yields are also under attack with a sharp drop in November premium traffic,Â¡Â± he added. Asia Pacific carriers saw the sharpest decline in December international traffic at 9.7 per cent. They also registered the sharpest reduction in capacity, but at 5.6 per cent, this still lagged behind the drop in demand. Load factors sank to 72.6 per cent. Carriers in the Middle East, meanwhile showed a 3.9 per cent increase in demand in December, far below the 10 per cent capacity increase. The regionÂ¡Â¯s carriers ended five years of double-digit growth with full-year demand growing by 7 per cent – compared to 18.1 per cent recorded for 2007. “Growth will continue to slow in 2009 as oil revenues and long-haul hub connection traffic are now both in decline,” IATA said. Airlines registered a US$5 billion loss in 2008. For 2009 IATA is forecasting a further loss of US$2.5 billion based on a fuel price of US$60 per barrel, a decline of 3 per cent in passenger volumes, a drop of 5 per cent in cargo traffic and yield deterioration of 3 per cent. Industry revenues are expected to contract by US$35 billion (from US$536 billion in 2008 to US$501 billion in 2009). In the face of this economic crisis, IATA is calling for major structural changes to the industry. Â¡Â°We donÂ¡Â¯t want bail-outs. But we need to change the ownership rules. Almost every other business has the freedom to access to global capital and the ability to merge across borders where it makes sense. To manage in this crisis, airlines need the same management tools,Â¡Â± said Bisignani.