Global air cargo volumes dipped by more than a fifth in December of last year as the US-led financial crisis slowed the global economy, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.
The IATA, which represents more than 90% of the world's commercial airlines, said cargo traffic fell by 22.6% in December worldwide from a year earlier.
"For the full-year 2008, international cargo traffic was down 4.0%," it said.
The decline was higher than a reported 1.6% dip in passenger traffic in the same period.
"The 22.6% free fall in global cargo is unprecedented and shocking. There is no clearer description of the slowdown in world trade," said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA director general and chief executive officer.
"Even in September 2001, when much of the global fleet was grounded [due to the terrorist attacks in the United States], the decline was only 13.9%," he added.
Air cargo carries more than a third of the value of goods traded internationally.
Asia Pacific carriers, which account for about 45% of the world's air cargo, led the global decline, posting a 26% contraction for the month.
But other regions were not spared.
North and Latin American and European carriers posted drops in cargo of about 22%. Middle Eastern and African airlines were the least affected, posting only dingle digit declines of about 9%.
"This year is shaping up to be one of the toughest years ever for international aviation. The drop in international cargo traffic in December puts us in uncharted territory and the bottom is nowhere in sight," Mr. Bisignani said.
"Keep your seatbelts fastened and prepare for a bumpy ride and a hard landing."