Geneva – Twenty-five airlines went bankrupt or stopped operations in the first six months of this year and more could fold as fuel prices soar, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

“In the past six months, we suspended 25 airlines from the settlement system,” said Iata spokesperson Anthony Concil. “Suspension occurs when an airline goes bankrupt or ceases operations. This is more concentrated than at any time in the history of the system.”

The list included airlines big and small from all regions, such as Cameroon Airlines, Denver-based Frontier Airlines and UK-based business class airline Silverjet.

In the six months following the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 2001, only eight airlines folded, including Swissair, Belgian flagship carrier Sabena and Australia’s Ansett.

While Concil would not speculate on airlines that were vulnerable to bankruptcy in coming months, he said: “The high price of fuel is having an enormous impact … and we do expect the list of 25 will grow.”

The Iata payment system is used by most of the carriers that are part of the association. When a customer buys an airline ticket from a travel agency, the agency pays Iata, which then credits the carrier’s account. When an airline faces bankruptcy, it is suspended from the system to ensure that funds are available to reimburse customers when necessary.

With the explosion in fuel prices, airlines are increasingly finding themselves on the line. Concil said every dollar increase in crude oil translated to $1.6 billion (R12.3 billion) in additional costs to the aviation industry. While fuel used to make up just 13 percent of airline costs, it was now approaching 35 percent, Iata estimated.

Last month Iata said the “revenue cushion that allowed the fuel cost surge to be absorbed in the four years to 2007 has gone”. It expected net losses between $2.3 billion and $6.1 billion for the industry this year.

Beyond fuel price inflation, the sombre economic backdrop gave airlines a double whammy. Iata said in March that business travel contracted by the “largest amount since 2003”. Economy travel growth slowed to less than 1 percent in the first quarter from more than 6 percent last year.