Global air travel surged in the past year and fares dropped across the board by 5 per cent.

Figures from the International Air Transport Association show global air traffic grew at its fastest rate in the past five years at 6.5 per cent.

About 3.5 billion passengers traveled by air last year.

"While the economic backdrop was weaker in 2015 compared to the previous year, passenger traffic received a strong boost from lower air fares: after adjusting for distortions from the rise in the US dollar, global airfares in 2015 were approximately 5 per cent lower than in 2014," the association said.


"All told, we estimate this boost to have driven around half of the annual growth in traffic last year."

Total traffic growth outstripped the rise in capacity and the global load factor reached an all-time high of 80.3 per cent in 2015.

The easing in annual traffic growth seen towards the end of 2015 was largely due to temporary factors, including airline strikes in Europe.

"All told, global business confidence surveys suggest that economic conditions will remain supportive of another strong year for passenger traffic in 2016. Indeed, the additional decline in oil prices in recent months is likely to provide further stimulus for air travel growth throughout the year too," IATA said.

Airlines serving New Zealand say strong competition and relatively low fuel prices are helping push down fares here.

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According to the IATA figures, carriers in the Asia Pacific region accounted for one-third of the total annual increase in international traffic in 2015 with volumes up 8.2 per cent from the previous year.

A 7.3 per cent increase in the number of direct airport connections within the Asia region during 2015 helped to stimulate demand by translating into time savings for passengers, and helped to offset the negative impact s of slower growth in many of the region's economies.

European carriers also made a significant contribution to total international growth; the 5 per cent increase in international traffic was aided by
a pick-up in consumer spending in the Eurozone and a moderate increase in flight frequencies in the region.

However, international traffic fell in the latter months of the year , partly as a result of strikes at Lufthansa and the shutdown of Russian carrier Transaero.

North American carriers ' international traffic increased by 3.2 per cent in 2015 - broadly unchanged from the rate seen in 2014 .

With solid economic conditions in the United States continuing to support passenger demand, 2015 was the first year since 2003 in which North American carriers' international traffic grew more slowly than domestic traffic.

It was the opposite case for Latin American carriers, whose international traffic expanded by 9.3 per cent in 2015 . The upward trend in international traffic showed little sign of slowing towards the end of last year.

African carriers' international traffic grew by 3 per cent in 2015 - a recovery from an Ebola - affected 2014 but still slow for an emerging market.

IATA forecasts total passengers are set to double to 7 billion by 2034.

• Emirates today released early bird fares that are available on all of its five daily New Zealand services, including the new non-stop Dubai flight from Auckland.

Among them are flights to Oslo and Bologna, available from $1977 return, and the high-demand destination of London from $2260 return. Other economy return fares include Barcelona from $2159, Amsterdam from $2167, Rome from $2193, Paris from $2212, and Manchester from $2304.