Fun with air traffic stats: IATA’s 2018 data is out

Every year the International Air Transport Association (IATA) adds up a bunch of statistics on air travel patterns and habits. The 2018 data tabulation is now complete and, as always, there are a few juicy nuggets to digest.

Some 4.4 billion passengers took flight in 2018, with airplanes more full than ever. While capacity increased, it did so slower than demand, driving load factors to a record 81.9% globally. Fortunately fuel consumption did not grow at the same pace; airlines realized a 12% improvement in fuel efficiency year-over-year, demonstrating progress in the CORSIA commitment to cap net carbon emissions growth from 2020 and to halve the 2005 numbers by 2050.

Digging down into the numbers a bit, a few fun details come out. It should not come as much of a surprise that the Asia-Pacific region continues to lead the market in total passengers, carrying 37.1% of all air travelers. Not only is it the largest, but it continues to hold its position as the fastest growing region of the world. That may slow slightly when the 2018 numbers come out, owing to changes in India with Jet’s collapse and a lack of new 737 MAX aircraft to support LCC growth in the region. But expect that overall it will still be in the lead.


LCCs are a large part of the Asia-Pacific market but also a major factor on the global stage. IATA measured LCC capacity growth at 13.4% for the year almost doubling the overall industry growth rate of 6.9%. LCCs accounted for 21% of global capacity) in 2018, up from 11% in 2004.

While Asia leads in total passengers carried, it is US-based airlines that lead in size of operations. Four of the top five airlines by passenger seat miles/kilometers are in the USA. Combined they total more than 1.2 trillion passenger miles. Emirates rounds out the top five.


When it comes to the busiest air traffic routes in the world, the data comes with a caveat. IATA counts all traffic between individual airport pairs rather than cities. This means that flights between Gatwick and JFK count separately from flights between Heathrow and Newark. Moreover, IATA is focused on passenger journeys for this stat. That means it includes trips that include a connection in the calculations. Also of note is that two of the most trafficked international city pairs saw a decrease in passenger count in 2018 compared to the prior year.


For the busiest domestic routes, the Asia-Pacific region continues to dominate. The number of passengers flying between Seoul-Gimpo and Jeju on a daily basis is astounding. More than 60% of the daily departures from Gimpo are headed to Jeju Island (129 aircraft made the trip on Wednesday), with planes ranging in size from the A220-300 up to a 777. Having just made the trip 8 weeks ago I can confirm it is a very, very popular route. And I still do not understand why nearly 40,000 travelers make the trip every day.


Anything surprising to you in these numbers??

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Any idea what a leisure airline is? A scheduled charter, perhaps? I just haven’t heard the term previously.

    1. I think you’re probably right. I hadn’t see that in the notes and also haven’t heard the distinction previously. But it makes sense given the numbers.

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