Global air passenger traffic was up 6.5% year-over-year (YOY) in 2015, the fastest pace in five years, according to IATA’s Air Passenger Market Analysis.

The rate of growth exceeds the 10-year average annual growth of 5.5% and is largely attributable to lower air fares, which in 2015 were approximately 5% lower YOY, and contributed to half of 2015’s annual traffic growth, according to IATA estimates.

Global capacity increased by 5.6% YOY in 2015, which led to a total passenger load factor of 80.3%, “an all-time high,” IATA said.

“Last year’s very strong performance, against a weaker economic backdrop, confirms the strong demand for aviation connectivity,” IATA DG and CEO Tony Tyler said. “As the appetite for air travel increased, consumers benefitted from lower fares.”

In December, worldwide air passenger traffic growth was 5.4% YOY, falling 0.5 points from November. IATA attributed the slowdown to temporary factors, including recent airline strikes in Europe. Capacity in December was up 5.3% YOY, up 1.1 points from November, and the global passenger load factor (PLF) was 78.8%, up 0.8 point from November.

Passenger Traffic in 2015

For the whole of 2015, combined world traffic on domestic routes grew 6.3% YOY, as capacity on the world’s domestic routes increased 5.2% YOY; the total PLF for travel on domestic routes in 2015 came to 81.5%. Domestic travel in India had the biggest rise for the year, up 20.2% YOY, with 10.6% YOY capacity growth leading to an 83.2% PLF.

Domestic travel in the US, with 43% of the world’s domestic travel market in December, grew 4.9% YOY in 2015, with 4.3% capacity growth and an 85.4% PLF. “This was the fastest rate of increase [for US domestic traffic] since 2004 and the first time since 2003 that domestic growth surpassed international growth,” IATA said.

China, which accounted for 22% of December’s global domestic travel market, showed 10.9% YOY growth in traffic in 2015; China’s capacity was up 9.4% YOY and its total PLF for the year was 81.2%.

International passenger traffic globally was up 6.5% YOY in 2015 with 5.9% YOY capacity growth, producing a full-year international traffic PLF of 79.7%. The Middle East had the highest surge of international travel growth during the year, with traffic rising 10.5% YOY, and capacity up 13.2% YOY, for a 76.4% PLF. Middle East carriers’ share of the total international travel market rose to 14.2% in 2015, IATA said, overtaking the North American carriers’ share (13.4%). Asia-Pacific carriers’ international traffic volume grew 8.2% YOY, as “a 7.3% increase in the number of direct airport connections within [Asia] … helped to stimulate demand by translating into time savings for passengers,” IATA said.

Air Freight in 2015

Worldwide air cargo volumes in 2015 grew 2.2% YOY in 2015, shrinking from 2014’s 4.5% YOY increase. However in December the total air freight market saw a 0.8% YOY increase, improved from November’s 1.2% drop. “Recent month’s data show that earlier declines have bottomed out and there has been some modest improvement consistent with developments in world trade,” IATA said in its Air Freight Market Analysis.

Worldwide total market air cargo capacity was up 6.1% YOY, which led to a full year freight load factor (FLF) of 44.1%. 2014’s full-year FLF was 45.7%.

All of the world’s major regions showed weakness in air freight traffic in 2015, IATA said. Asia-Pacific carriers saw 2.3% YOY growth in volume, as capacity in the region increased 5.7% YOY, producing a 53.9% FLF for the year. North American carriers’ air cargo growth was flat in 2015, rising 0.1% YOY, with capacity up 3.8% YOY for a full-year FLF of 34.3%. European carriers’ freight volumes contracted slightly, down 0.1% YOY, with capacity up 4.4%, resulting in a full-year 44.9% FLF. Middle East carriers saw a significant improvement in volumes, which rose 11.3% YOY; however capacity in the region was also up significantly, rising 15.7% YOY, and the region’s full-year FLF came in at 42.8%.

“During some parts of the year [freight load factors] reached lows not seen since 2009,” IATA said. “Much of the decline was owing to weakness in demand, but continued growth in capacity also contributed.”

“2015 was another very difficult year for air cargo. Growth has slowed and revenue is falling. In 2011 air cargo revenue peaked at $67 billion. In 2015 we are not expecting revenue to exceed $51 billion,” Tony Tyler said. “Efficiency gains are critical as the sector adjusts to shortening global supply chains and evermore competitive market conditions. We have to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of cargo growing in line with general rates of economic expansion.”