Further mergers among airlines are essential in order to cut costs and improve competitiveness in an industry seen sustaining combined losses of $2.8 billion this year, the head of airline industry body IATA said on Monday.

Mergers and consolidation is a must ... I strongly support consolidation, Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, told few reporters in Tokyo.

Asked about a possible merger between United Airlines and US Airways , he said he would not comment on individual deals.

IATA said on March 30 that airlines were climbing out of recession with strong rises in passenger travel and cargoes in February. Passenger demand in February was up 9.5 percent from a year earlier, while supply increased by only 1.9 percent.

(Reporting by Yumiko Nishitani)