Passenger and freight volumes in the airline industry in February continued to decline, with freight volumes down 22,1% year-on-year, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) reported on Thursday.

The announcement comes only days after Iata director-general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani announced that the industry’s forecast losses for 2009 would increase to $4,7-billion, up from the previous estimates of $2,5-billion.

Passenger volumes declined by 10,1% year-on-year in February, exceeding the 5,6% decline in January.

Falling demand had pushed the load factor down to 69,9%, 3,2% lower year-on-year, despite the industry reducing its capacity by 5,9%.

Further, international freight volumes had shown a reduction in excess of 20% for the third consecutive month.

“Gloom continues. The sharp drop in February passenger traffic shows the broadening scope of the crisis. Freight traffic, which began its decline in June 2008 before passenger markets were hit, has now had three consecutive months in the -22% to -23% range. We may have found a bottom to the freight decline, but the magnitude of the drop means that it will take time to recover,” said Bisignani.

In a conference call from Geneva on Tuesday, Bisignani stated that the drop in demand for cargo traffic was a lead indicator of the global economic conditions, clearly demonstrating that consumers were not buying and manufacturers were not producing.

Cargo traffic would be down about 13% in 2009, while passenger numbers would be down about 5,7%, Iata forecast at the time.

Meanwhile, Iata stated that African airlines had, in February, experienced the largest decline in passenger demand, which was down 13,7%. This was despite the 11,8% of capacity African airlines had removed.

Similarly, the African airlines had also experienced the worst performance in the cargo sector, recording a 30,7% drop in international freight traffic.

Iata noted that this was owing to a loss of market share on long-haul routes, combined with the effects of the economic downturn.