The global airline industry is expected to lose $5 billion this year due in part to high fuel costs (search) but could break even in 2005 if oil prices drop to an average of $36 a barrel, the industry's trade group said Tuesday.

Crude oil prices (search) have been around $40 a barrel for much of this year -- although they reached a high of $55.17 in October.

Brian Pearce, chief economist of the International Air Transport Association (search), told reporters at IATA's Geneva headquarters that a $34-a-barrel average would secure a combined $1.2 billion profit for the global airline industry in 2005.

IATA chief Giovanni Bisignani said the industry has received a boost from record passenger numbers. The industry transported 1.8 billion passengers this year, up 14 percent, he said.

Detailed passenger forecast numbers will be released Wednesday, but Bisignani offered a sneak preview, saying the forecast shows an increase of 6 percent a year for the period running from 2004 to 2008.

''But the bottom line numbers are terrible,'' he added. ''We lost $35 billion between 2001 and 2004.''