updated 1/22/2010 3:07:49 PM ET 2010-01-22T20:07:49

Air travel in the Asia-Pacific region declined 5.7 percent in 2009 from a year ago, and recovery is expected to remain fragile, an industry group warned Friday.

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Regional airlines are expected to report significant losses for 2009 following similar heavy losses suffered in 2008, said the Kuala Lumpur-based Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. It didn't provide any figures.

The association said its 17 member airlines flew 132.9 million passengers last year, compared to 140.9 million in 2008.

Passenger traffic measured in revenue per passenger per kilometer fell by 6.5 percent, indicating weakness in demand on long-haul routes, it said in a statement. Available seat capacity was reduced by 6.1 percent, resulting in a marginal drop in the average passengers carried by an airplane by 0.4 percent to 74.6 percent.

Freight traffic fell at a sharper rate of 11 percent last year, reflecting weak regional and international trade flows.

"We have been through downturns before, but none as severe as we've experienced in the past two years," association director-general Andrew Herdman said in a statement.

He said the collapse in corporate travel and intense price competition saw airline revenues falling by 20-25 percent last year. Oil prices, the single biggest cost for airlines, eased last year from its peak in 2008 but remained volatile, he said.

However, Herdman said the cargo business and passenger demand on short-haul leisure routes within the region have picked up in recent months in line with the improving global economic outlook.

"Asia Pacific airlines remain focused on conserving cash, rebuilding damaged balance sheets, and carefully managing capacity to match demand as they work toward restoring profitability," he said. "While we remain hopeful about future prospects, the outlook for 2010 very much depends on the sustainability of what still appears to be a rather fragile global economic recovery."

The association didn't provide growth forecast for this year.

Asia-Pacific airlines posted losses of $4.3 billion in 2008. The International Air Transport Association has said the Asia Pacific region will be among the hardest hit in 2009, forecasting losses of $3.6 billion.

The AAPA represents Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, China Airlines, Dragonair, EVA Air, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Qantas Airways, Royal Brunei Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International and Vietnam Airlines.

As a group, the AAPA represents roughly one-fifth of global passenger traffic and one-third of global cargo traffic.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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