The creation of more than 700 new routes and falling fares helped boost global airline passenger demand in 2016.
Demand rose by 6.3% over 2015, well ahead of the ten-year average annual growth rate of 5.5%, according to latest Iata figures.
The load factor nudged up 0.1 percentage points to a record full-year average high of 80.5%.
December saw a particularly strong performance with an 8.8% rise in demand outstripping 6.6% capacity growth.
Iata director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac used the year-end data to emphasise the importance of the freedom to travel in the week that US president Donald Trump imposed a ban on movement from seven mainly Muslim countries.
“Our freedom to connect through air travel drives prosperity and enriches societies. That freedom can only be given its fullest expression when governments facilitate the movement of people and goods,” said de Juniac.
“Security and competitiveness, of course, must always be top of mind for governments.
“And the four billion people who will travel by air this year are an opportunity to build an even better world through the positive impacts of globalization – mutual understanding, innovation and business opportunities among them.
“Aviation is the business of freedom. And we must defend its social and economic benefits from barriers to travel and protectionist agendas.”
Reviewing last year, he said: “Air travel was a good news story in 2016. Connectivity increased with the establishment of more than 700 new routes. And a $44 fall in average return fares helped to make air travel even more accessible.
“As a result, a record 3.7 billion passengers flew safely to their destination.
“Demand for air travel is still expanding. The challenge for governments is to work with the industry to meet that demand with infrastructure that can accommodate the growth, regulation that facilitates growth and taxes that don’t choke growth.
“If we can achieve that, there is plenty of potential for a safe, secure and sustainable aviation industry to create more jobs and increase prosperity.”
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