AIRLINES around the world will continue to bleed cash, but losses this year are not expected to exceed the US$13 billion (S$19.9 billion) of 2001 - the year of the terrorist attacks in the United States.
Still, this is nothing to cheer about, said Mr Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive and director-general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents 230 carriers worldwide.
What happened in 2001 and again in 2003, when Sars hit, shocked the industry. But in both instances, it took under six months for recovery to come.
This time round, he reckons it could be at least three years before passenger and cargo volumes are back to 2007 levels.
In an hour-long interview with The Straits Times yesterday at the Singapore Iata office, Mr Bisignani was candid about the challenges facing the industry.
Given the global economic downturn, cash is hard to come by, demand is nosediving - especially in the lucrative first and business class cabins - and airlines are not dumping capacity fast enough.
For an industry already sitting on a US$190 billion debt, being cash-strapped is not a good thing, he said.
The biggest worry: It is anybody's guess when things will bottom out.
He said: 'Somebody asked me: 'Could you give us a date?' I said: 'Look, we have a good chief economist, but I would have to hire a chief magician to give me a clear picture on when this would end'.'