GENEVA (AFP) - A record 3.3 billion passengers boarded planes last year, marking a jump of some 170 million passengers from 2013, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Thursday.
"Demand for the passenger business did well in 2014. With a 5.9 per cent expansion of demand, the industry out-performed the 10-year average growth rate," IATA chief Tony Tyler said in a statement.
More than half of the growth in passenger travel occurred on airlines in emerging markets, including Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
Global airline capacity, meanwhile, rose by 5.6 per cent, while the average load factor, or percentage of seats occupied, was 79.7 per cent, a 0.2 point increase over 2013.
Despite the swelling numbers of people travelling by air, Tyler cautioned that "there have been signs in recent months that softening business confidence is translating into a levelling off of international travel demand."
The strongest overall growth was recorded by carriers in the Middle East (13 per cent), followed by the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America, with 5.8 per cent each.
Europe, meanwhile, saw its market swell 5.7 per cent, marking a clear hike from the 3.8 per cent growth seen in 2013.
"Robust travel on low-fare airlines as well as airlines registered in Turkey offset economic weakness and risks in the region," IATA explained.
North America saw demand rise 3.1 per cent in 2014, compared to just 2.3 per cent a year earlier, and boasted the highest load factor of all regions at 81.7 per cent.
African airlines experienced the slowest annual growth of just 0.9 per cent, after rising 5.2 per cent in 2013.
Airlines in Africa saw their load factor slip 1.5 points to 67.5 per cent, also the lowest of all regions.
IATA said that slump did not appear to be linked to Ebola, except in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the countries at the epicentre of the devastating epidemic of the virus that has killed nearly 9,000 people in just over a year.
Instead it seemed to be linked to "negative economic developments in parts of the continent including Nigeria, which is highly reliant on oil revenues," it said.