Annual passengers traveling via the world’s commercial airlines exceeded 4 billion for the first time in 2017, up 7.3% over 2016 and equivalent to 280 million additional air trips, according to IATA’s annual World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) report, released Sept. 6.

A broad-based improvement in global economic conditions, combined with lower average airfares, supported the upward trajectory, IATA said.

Of the 4.1 billion air passengers worldwide in 2017, Asia-Pacific carriers continued to dominate, transporting 1.5 billion passengers during the year, up 10.6%—or 200 million additional passengers—compared to 2016, making up 36.3% of the world’s commercial passenger market. An additional 107.6 million passengers flew on European carriers in 2017, reaching 1.1 billion for the year, up 8.2% year-over-year (YOY) and capturing 26.3% of the world’s traffic. North American airlines transported 23% of the market with 941.8 million passengers in 2017, up 3.2% YOY—an additional 30.3 million passengers.

“Flying has never been more accessible,” IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said. “In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months … in 2017, the figure was once every 22 months.”

IATA said the number of city pair connections reached a record level in 2017, exceeding 20,000, more than double the level of 1995, “improving the industry’s efficiency by cutting costs and saving time for both travelers and shippers alike.”

The world’s busiest airport-pairs, for both domestic and international/regional routes, continue to be in the Asia-Pacific region. The busiest route by far is between Jeju International Airport (CJU) in Jeju City, South Korea and Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport (GMP), on which 13.5 million passengers flew in 2017, up 14.8%, or 1.8 million additional passengers, over 2016. Hong Kong (HKG)-Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) remains the busiest international/regional passenger airport pairing, with 5.4 million passengers in 2017, up 1.8% YOY.

US carriers led the rankings by numbers of scheduled RPKs flown. Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines lead with 324 billion RPKs, followed by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines (316.3 billion RPKs), Chicago-based United Airlines (311 billion RPKs) and Emirates Airlines (289 billion RPKs).

Global cargo traffic (as expressed in freight and mail ton kilometers—FTKs) expanded 9.9% in 2017, IATA said, outstripping 5.3% capacity growth and resulting in a 2.1% rise in freight load factors. FedEx Express is again the world’s largest scheduled-service air freight carrier, with 16.9 billion FTKs in 2017, followed by Emirates with 12.7 billion FTKs and United Parcel Service with 11.9 billion FTKs.

Ranked by nationality of passengers, the US continues to contribute the largest portion (632 million, or 18.6% of all passengers) for international and domestic travel, followed by citizens of China (555 million, or 16.3%), India (161.5 million, or 4.7%), the UK (147 million, or 4.3%) and Germany (114.4 million, or 3.4%).

Of the world’s major airline alliances, Star Alliance remained the largest in 2017, with its member airlines flying 39% of the world’s total scheduled traffic in RPKs, followed by SkyTeam at 33% and oneworld at 28%.

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@informa.com