GENEVA, March 2 (Reuters) - The world's airlines lost up to $8 billion last year, far more than the $5 billion previously estimated, a global industry body said on Monday.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said airline losses exceeded $4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, a period in which the global credit, financial and economic crises became acute.
"Airlines are now losing money at the operating level," IATA said in its latest Airlines Financial Health Monitor.
While falling oil prices have provided some respite in past months, many airlines committed themselves to paying higher prices in the last months of 2008 because of hedging, IATA said.
The Geneva-based body had previously estimated industry-wide losses at $5 billion in 2008.
Airline stock prices fell nearly 30 percent in the month of February and are more than 40 percent lower since the start of 2009, according to IATA, which represents 230 airlines including British Airways BAY.L, Cathay Pacific (0293.HK) and United Airlines UAUA.O. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; editing by Simon Jessop)