Airline passenger numbers have exceeded four billion a year for the first time, the International Air Transport Association says.

The association says this was driven by an improvement in global economic conditions and lower average airfares.

At the same time, airlines connected a record number of cities worldwide, providing regular services to over 20,000 city pairs in 2017, more than double the level of 1995.

The association - which represents 290 carriers with 82 per cent of capacity - says increases in direct services improve the industry's efficiency by cutting costs.

Advertisement

In New Zealand the number of international aircraft movements rose 3.6 per cent in the last year to 91,232, according to Airways.

Domestic flights increased by 1.4 in the past financial year - total movements were 873,833.

IATA global figures show that in 2000, people on average flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months.

"Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure and education. Aviation is the business of freedom," said Alexandre de Juniac, the association's director-general and chief executive.

Last year airlines carried 4.1 billion passengers on scheduled services, an increase of 7.3 per cent on the previous year, representing an additional 280 million trips by air.

Star Alliance - of which Air New Zealand is a member - maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2018. Photo / Grant Bradley
Star Alliance - of which Air New Zealand is a member - maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2018. Photo / Grant Bradley

Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region once again carried the largest number of passengers. The regional rankings (based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in that region) are:

•Asia-Pacific 36.3 per cent market share (1.5 billion passengers, an increase of 10.6 per cent)
•Europe 26.3 per cent market share (1.1 billion passengers, up 8.2 per cent)
•North America 23 per cent market share (941.8 million, up 3.2 per cent)
•Latin America 7 per cent market share (286.1 million, up 4.1 per cent)
•Middle East 5.3 per cent market share (216.1 million, an increase of 4.6 per cent)
Africa 2.2 per cent market share (88.5 million, up 6.66 per cent).

New food is being developed for Singapore Airlines' ultra-long haul routes. Photo / Supplied
New food is being developed for Singapore Airlines' ultra-long haul routes. Photo / Supplied

The top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometres flown, were:

•American Airlines (324 million)
•Delta Air Lines (316.3 million)
•United Airlines (311 million)
•Emirates Airline (289 million)
•Southwest Airlines (207.7 million)

The top five international/regional passenger airport-pairs were all within the Asia-Pacific region.

•Hong Kong-Taipei Taoyuan (5.4 million)
•Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta-Singapore (3.3 million)
•Bangkok Suvarnabhumi-Hong Kong (3.1 million)
•Kuala Lumpur–Singapore (2.8 million)
•Hong Kong-Seoul Incheon (2.7 million)

The top five domestic passenger airport-pairs were also all in the Asia-Pacific region:
•Jeju-Seoul Gimpo (13.5 million)
•Melbourne Tullamarine-Sydney (7.8 million)
•Fukuoka-Tokyo Haneda (7.6 million)
•Sapporo-Tokyo Haneda (7.4 million)
•Beijing Capital-Shanghai Hongqiao (6.4 million,)

The world's most frequent flyers were also ranked. Nationality refers to the passenger's citizenship as opposed to the country of residence.
•US (632 million, representing 18.6 per cent of all passengers)
•China (555 million or 16.3 per cent)
•India (161.5 million or 4.7 per cent)
•United Kingdom (147 million or 4.3 per cent)
•Germany (114.4 million or 3.4 per cent)

Federal Express was the biggest carrier of cargo followed by Emirates, UPS, Qatar and Cathay Pacific.

Star Alliance - of which Air New Zealand is a member - maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2018 with 39 per cent of total scheduled traffic, followed by SkyTeam (33 per cent) and oneworld (28 per cent).