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Slump in Passenger Numbers
International airline passenger traffic in May slumped by 21 percent from May 2002, largely because of the SARS health crisis, the global airlines body IATA said on Wednesday.

IATA, the International Air Transport Association, said carriers in the Asia-Pacific region, which has been the focus of the outbreak of the deadly disease, saw the worst drop - 50.8 percent down against the same period a year ago.

North American airlines - hit by the effects of the invasion of Iraq and the world economic downturn - carried 20.6 percent fewer passengers on international flights but European companies were down only 5.5 percent, according to IATA.

Although the SARS crisis was now on the wane and passenger traffic had probably picked up in June, the Geneva and Montreal-based body's Director-General, Giovanni Bisignani, said a full industry recovery will take some time.

"An increase in traffic is not a return to profitability. Major challenges remain," he declared. Airlines must remain prudent in restoring flights that had been suspended while SARS, which has killed about 800 people worldwide, was raging.

Industry-wide cost-cutting efforts "must be redoubled to put our crippled balance sheets back in order," said Bisignani in remarks aimed at IATA's some 280 members who account for around 95 percent of all international scheduled flights.

IATA says its members collectively recorded losses totaling US$25 billion for 2001 and 2002, and were heading for another hit of US$10 billion this year in the worst crisis the industry has had to face in its 80-year history.

One ray of light, however, came on the cargo front, where volume moved on international scheduled services in May was up 3 percent over May last year and 8.7 percent up over the first five months of this year against the same period in 2002.

IATA Communications Director William Gaillard said the effects on civil aviation of SARS have been worse than that of the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks in the United States.

(China Daily July 4, 2003)

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