Cape Town - The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said on Monday international demand for air cargo in October was 4.7% lower than in October 2010, while passenger traffic showed a 3.6% rise over previous year levels.
Iata director general and CEO Tony Tyler said that since the middle of the year the international air cargo market has shrunk by almost 5%.
"This is far greater than the 1% fall in world trade (as a whole). Air freight is among the first sectors to suffer when business confidence declines," Tyler said.
Iata said while business confidence globally has declined considerably in recent months, this has not been the case with industrial output. However, in anticipation of weaker economic activity there is a shift to cheaper and slower modes of transport.
In stark contrast to the decline in air cargo freight, Iata said the trend for air travel remains upwards but with strong regional differences.
Despite the deepening eurozone crisis, European carriers have shown above-trend demand growth of 6.4%.
"With Europe accounting for 29.2% of global air travel, this suggests that the current overall strength in air travel is based on fragile foundations," said Tyler.
According to the latest Iata report, African airlines have reported a 4.2% rise in demand, below the 5.9% growth in capacity.
Load factors for the continent were the weakest among the regions at 68.2%.
"As we enter the year-end period, we are reminded of the vital role that aviation plays in our globalised world. Families and friends will reunite. Holiday gifts will be exchanged across countries and continents.
"Valuable tourism dollars will be spent in every corner of the planet. And critical climate change discussions will be held in Durban. Much of this is facilitated by efficient air links that have turned our planet into a global community," said Tyler.
"The economic prospects for 2012 are uncertain, but the track record of aviation's ability to act as a catalyst for economic activity is rock solid. Now is the time for governments to use aviation strategically in their efforts to put economies back on track," he said.
Tyler named implementing a Single European Sky, delivering NextGen air traffic management in the US and supporting the commercialisation of sustainable biofuels for aviation as examples of government action that would generate jobs, improve environmental performance and help secure the industry's long-term success and economic benefits.