Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region saw international passenger volumes drop by more than half in May as the full impact of Sars wreaked havoc with core revenues, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). The day after the World Health Organisation lifted its final travel advisory on Toronto, preliminary Iata statistics for May revealed passengers volumes in Asia-Pacific fell almost 51 per cent year on year, the biggest drop of any region. 'The turmoil in the aviation industry intensified in May as the impact of the Sars crisis became more widespread and the global economy continued to struggle,' said Iata chief executive Giovanni Bisignani. But Mr Bisignani said the worst was likely over and 'it is time to get back to business'. With carriers reinstating capacity, the industry appears to be on the road to recovery. But Richard Stirland, director-general for the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, warned the worst news for the region might yet come when last month's numbers are tallied. 'The June figures will probably be worse, given that the negative impact of Sars proved to be progressive here,' Mr Stirland said. He said it would probably be the first quarter next year before the industry recovered. 'We may see the passenger numbers return to last year's levels in the latter part of the fourth quarter, but we will have to see the cut-price fares withdrawn before we can assess sustainable recovery.' Iata spokesman Anthony Concil said globally, the industry should have hit its Sars-induced nadir in May. 'I would be surprised if the numbers were worse last month because of the capacity that has been re-introduced to the market,' he said. However, he warned against assuming recovery had been achieved after passenger volumes reached the levels of last year, when the industry still lost money. 'The traffic numbers are an indicator but not necessarily of profitability,' Mr Concil said. 'It is going to take a long time to rebuild the balance sheets.' Year to date, passenger volumes in Asia-Pacific were off almost 12 per cent to May. Globally, traffic fell a comparative 21 per cent for the month, with North American carriers, particularly those with greater exposure to transpacific routes, also bearing the brunt of Sars. International revenue-passenger kilometres for North American carriers fell a comparative 20.6 per cent for the month and almost 11 per cent in the first five months. European carriers were the least impacted by the downturn.