Airlines are climbing out of recession with further strong increases for passenger travel and freight in February, industry association IATA said on Tuesday.

One sign of recovery was record capacity usage for passenger travel in February, traditionally the weakest month for air travel, the International Air Transport Association said.

We are moving in the right direction. In two to three months, the industry should be back to pre-recession traffic levels, said IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani.

Passenger demand in February was 9.5 percent higher than a year earlier, but supply increased by only 1.9 percent.

The result was a passenger load factor -- a measure of how full planes fly -- of 75.5 percent, or a February record in seasonally adjusted terms of 79.3 percent, IATA said.

Cargo demand grew 26.5 percent, said IATA, which estimates that 30 percent of world trade by value is moved by air freight, making its data an important indicator of global commerce flows and overall economic activity.

IATA said February 2009 had marked the bottom of the cycle for passenger traffic during the recession, and passenger demand would need to recover by a further 1.4 percent to return to pre-crisis levels.

Cargo traffic, which plunged much further than passenger business, as demand for goods plummeted in the crisis, must rise a further 3 percent to regain pre-crisis levels after hitting a low in December 2008, IATA said.

This is still not a full recovery. The task ahead is to adjust to two years of lost growth, Bisignani said in a statement.

IATA, which groups about 230 airlines, including Air China <601111.SS>, Lufthansa , British Airways , Singapore Airlines and Skywest , forecast earlier this month that airlines would lose $2.8 billion this year after losing $9.4 billion in 2009.

As usual, regional demand patterns varied, with European and North American carriers showing the weakest growth in February, while Asia-Pacific carriers saw strong increases.

Middle East airlines recorded passenger demand growth of 25.8 percent, the strongest of any region as travel markets develop in the area and local carriers compete on long-haul connections to Asia via Middle Eastern hubs, it said.

Latin American carriers saw a 41.9 percent increase in cargo demand.

(For IATA statement go to )

(Reporting by Jonathan Lynn, editing by Will Waterman)