The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced full-year traffic figures yesterday and said that passenger traffic (Revenue Passenger Kilometres) increased 7.4% in 2007, up 1.5 points over the 5.9% growth recorded in 2006.
Average load factor, it said, was at an all-time record of 77% last year, up 1 point from 2006.
"This trend will likely end in 2008 as demand growth is forecast to slow to 5% while capacity rises 5.2%," the organization said.
Middle East carriers recorded traffic growth of 18.1%, which was the highest rate among all regions.
Latin American airlines it said rebounded from a 2.4% decline in traffic in 2006 to post an 8.4% increase in 2007. This has been attributed to the restructuring of Brazilian carrier Varig.
African carriers saw a growth of 8%, while Asia/Pacific airlines posted a traffic increase of' 7.3% nearly matching the global average.
Europe saw demand rise to 6% from 5.3% in the previous year.
North American airlines posted a passenger traffic growth of 5.5%, down slightly from 5.7% in 2006.
International airfreight traffic, it said, grew 4.3% in 2007, down from 4.6% in 2006 and well below historical and long-term projected average annual growth of 6.1%.
In this sector too, Middle East carriers led all regions with a 10.1% increase in freight demand, though down from 16.1% in 2006.
Airlines in the Asia/Pacific region, which account for 45% of the international total, saw cargo traffic increase 6.5% in 2007.
European carriers posted a 2.7% increase in Freight Tonne Kilometres while North American airlines saw growth of just 0.7%.
Latin American airlines' cargo demand dipped 5.4% while African carriers posted a 6% decrease.
"Despite the ambiguity of strong passenger growth accompanied by weaker freight demand, we can say clearly that 2007 was the best in recent memory," IATA DG and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said. "We can state equally clearly that there will be no encore performance in 2008. Oil prices are higher than ever. Economic uncertainty accompanying the US credit crunch is broadening. And the slower growth for passenger demand in December sets the trend for the coming months."
Worldwide passenger traffic growth slowed to 6.7% in December.
IATA projects that the airfreight demand environment "will remain challenging," forecasting growth of 4%-4.5% in 2008.