Four of the world’s top five airlines may be from the United States but it’s Asia-Pacific that rules the global skies with a 36% share of the 4.1 billion passengers flown during 2017 – a record, of course. 

Asia-Pacific was also the fastest growing aviation market at 10%, well ahead of the rest. No surprise there.

And yet not a single Asia-Pacific carrier made the top five carriers.

Leading the way was American Airlines (324 million passenger kilometres), closely followed by Delta Air Lines (316.3 m),  United Airlines (311 m), Emirates Airlines (289 m) and Southwest Airlines (207.7 m). 

Weird, right?

These and other amazing facts are included the recently released 62nd Edition of the World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) – an outstanding read for travel and data nerds. Even better if you’re both.

For mine, the most telling stat is that “in 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months.

In other words, the average person (whoever that may be!) is flying twice as much as they were 17 years ago.

If that rate of growth continues – well, you know the rest….

“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, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Highlights of 2017 airline industry performance include:

  • System-wide, airlines carried 4.1 billion passengers on scheduled services, an increase of 7.3% over 2016, representing an additional 280 million trips by air.
  • 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:
  1.  Asia-Pacific 36.3% market share (1.5 billion passengers, an increase of 10.6% compared to the region’s passengers in 2016)
  2. Europe 26.3% market share (1.1 billion passengers, up 8.2% over 2016).
  3. North America 23% market share (941.8 million, up 3.2% over 2016)
  4. Latin America 7% market share (286.1 million, up 4.1% over 2016)
  5. Middle East 5.3% market share (216.1 million, an increase of 4.6% over 2016)
  6. Africa 2.2% market share (88.5 million, up 6.6% over 2016).
  • The top five international/regional passenger airport-pairs were all within the Asia-Pacific region, again this year:
  1. Hong Kong-Taipei Taoyuan (5.4 million, up 1.8% from 2016)
  2.  Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta-Singapore (3.3 million, up 0.8% from 2016)
  3. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi-Hong Kong (3.1 million, increase of 3.5% from 2016)
  4. Kuala Lumpur
  5. Singapore (2.8 million, down. 0.3% from 2016)
  6. Hong Kong-Seoul Incheon (2.7 million, down 2.2% from 2016)
  • The top five domestic passenger airport-pairs were also all in the Asia-Pacific region:
  1. Jeju-Seoul Gimpo (13.5 million, up 14.8% over 2016)
  2. Melbourne Tullamarine-Sydney (7.8 million, up 0.4% from 2016)
  3. Fukuoka-Tokyo Haneda (7.6 million, an increase of 6.1% from 2016)
  4. Sapporo-Tokyo Haneda (7.4 million, up 4.6% from 2016)
  5. Beijing Capital-Shanghai Hongqiao (6.4 million, up 1.9% from 2016)
  • One of the interesting recent additions to the WATS report is the ranking of passenger traffic by nationality , for international and domestic travel. 
  1. United States of America (632 million, representing 18.6% of all passengers)
  2. People’s Republic of China (555 million or 16.3% of all passengers)
  3. India (161.5 million or 4.7% of all passengers)
  4. United Kingdom (147 million or 4.3% of all passengers)
  5. Germany (114.4 million or 3.4% of all passengers)


Globally, cargo markets showed a 9.9% expansion in freight and mail tonne kilometers (FTKs). This outstripped a capacity increase of 5.3% increasing freight load factor by 2.1%.

• The top five airlines ranked by scheduled freight tonne kilometers flown were:

  1. Federal Express (16.9 billion)
  2. Emirates (12.7 billion)
  3. United Parcel Service (11.9 billion)
  4. Qatar Airways (11 billion)
  5. Cathay Pacific Airways (10.8 billion)

Airline Alliances

  • Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance in 2016 with 39% of total scheduled traffic (in RPKs), followed by SkyTeam (33%) and oneworld (28%)


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