The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says the world's airlines may have lost as much as $15 billion last year, mainly due to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The air transport association says passenger traffic fell by four percent last year. The organization's chief spokesman, William Gaillard, calls the aviation industry's losses last year staggering.
"We probably lost last year as much money as the industry ever made since 1945, which is not exactly a very pleasant record," he said.
IATA is an association of 274 member airlines around the world. Mr. Gaillard says the economic slowdown last year played a part in the industry's decline, but he says the September 11 terrorist attacks dealt the crushing blow to the industry.
"There was a fear of flying first of all, which took its toll, especially in September and October," he said. "Then the economic slowdown which followed the terrorist attacks. And then the fear of the hassle of flying, especially with business travelers. In the U.S. it has become practically impossible to do the round trip within a day which was kind of the rule. You used to be able to leave New York in the morning, go to Chicago, do what you had to do in Chicago and come back by the evening. That has become much more difficult."
Mr. Gaillard says the airlines lost as much last year - $15 billion - as they did in the four years following the Gulf war. But he believes their situation may improve this year.
"We are already seeing that the market is beginning to recover," he said. "So the impact has been sudden, severe, but probably short-lived."
And IATA officials say they are confident that, by next year, the industry will once again be profitable.