Asia-Pacific retains commanding role as air passenger numbers soar

Travellers check in at Samui Airport. Global air passengers soared 7% last year to 3.8 billion. (Photo: Boonsong Kositchotethana)

Travel by commercial airlines is an increasingly popular mode of transport, with 3.8 billion people taking to the skies last year.

2016’s record number of people who flew on scheduled commercial flights was 7% more than in 2015, representing an additional 242 million air trips.

This and other key facts are contained in the newly released yearbook of airline industry performance published by the International Air Transport Association.

These were IATA’s findings for 2016:


Once again, airlines in the Asia-Pacific region carried the largest number of passengers.

The regional ranking (based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in the region):

1. Asia-Pacific, 35% market (1.3 billion passengers, up 11.3% from 2015).

2. Europe, 26% market (992.4 million, up 6.1%).

3. North America, 24% market (911.5 million, up 3%).

4. Latin America, 7% market (275.1 million, up 1.8%)

5. Middle East, 5% market (206.1 million, up 9.1%)

6. Africa, 2% market (84 million, up 6%).


The top five airlines ranked by total scheduled passengers carried (domestic and international) were:

1. Southwest Airlines (151.8 million).

2. American Airlines (144.2 million).

3. Delta Air Lines (143.3 million).

4.China Southern Airlines (114.5 million).

5. Ryanair (112 million).


The top five international/regional passenger airport pairs were almost the same as in 2015, and all were within Asia-Pacific:

1. Hong Kong-Taipei (5.2 million, up 2.1% from 2015).

2. Jakarta-Singapore (3.4 million, up 0.9%).

3. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi-Hong Kong (3 million, down 3.1%).

4. Kuala Lumpur–Singapore (2.8 million, up 3.3%).

5. Hong Kong-Seoul (2.8 million, down 15%).

The top five domestic passenger airport pairs were all in Asia-Pacific as well:

1. Jeju-Seoul Gimpo (11.6 million, up 4.6% from 2015).

2. Sapporo-Tokyo Haneda (7.7 million, down 1.2%).

3. Fukuoka-Tokyo Haneda (7.3 million, down 4%).

4. Melbourne-Tullamarine-Sydney (7.3 million, down 4.6%).

5. Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City (6.4 million, up 16.2%).


A new feature in the yearbook is the ranking of passenger numbers in terms of nationality. Highlights include:

US citizens are the world’s most prevalent travellers, with some 810 million passengers travelling on US passports in 2016 — comprising 21% of all passengers worldwide.

Internationally, US citizens also took the top place, comprising 9.5% of all travellers. This was followed by citizens of Britain (7.8%), Germany (6.5%), China (6.4%) and France (4.1%).

Domestically, US citizens were the most prevalent travellers at 29.9%, followed by China (19%), India (5.2%), Indonesia (4.4%) and Japan (3.5%).


New model airlines (NMAs), a classification that includes low-cost carriers, accounted for 28.3% of all passengers in 2016, up from 27.1% in 2015.

Network carriers accounted for 69.5% of total passengers, while leisure carriers contributed 2.2% to passenger volumes.

Measured in revenue passenger kilometres, NMAs accounted for 20% of global traffic, reflecting the concentration of this sector in short-haul flying.