Global airline passenger demand in 2018 is unlikely to reach the highs achieved last year largely due to rising fuel costs, the head of Iata has admitted.

Director general and chief executive, Alexandre de Juniac, was commenting on results for 2017 showing that year-on-year demand rose by 7.6%.

The figure was well above the ten-year average annual growth rate of 5.5%.

Although the rate of demand growth slowed to 6.2% in December over the same month in 2016, this was largely down to less favourable comparisons to an even stronger growth trend seen in a year ago, according to Iata.

Capacity in 2017 rose 6.3% and the load factor climbed 0.9 percentage point to a record high of 81.4%.

European carriers’ international traffic climbed 8.2% compared to the previous year, underpinned by buoyant economic conditions in the region. Capacity rose 6.1% and the load factor surged 1.6 percentage points to 84.4%, which was the highest for any region.

De Juniac said: “2017 got off to a very strong start and largely stayed that way throughout the year, sustained by a broad-based pick-up in economic conditions.

“While the underlying economic outlook remains supportive in 2018, rising cost inputs, most notably fuel, suggest we are unlikely to see the same degree of demand stimulation from lower fares that occurred in the first part of 2017.”

He added: “Last year, more than four billion passengers used aviation to reunite with friends and loved ones, to explore new worlds, to do business, and to take advantage of opportunities to improve themselves.

“The connectivity provided by aviation enables goods to get to markets, and aid to be delivered to those in need. Aviation truly is the business of freedom, liberating us from the restraints of geography to lead better lives.

“Aviation can do even more in 2018, supported by governments that recognise and support our activities with smarter regulation, fairer taxation, cost efficient infrastructure and borders that are open to people and trade.”