Global air passenger traffic rose 5.3% in 2012, slightly lower than the 5.9% rise in 2011, although it was above 5% twenty-year average, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
During the year, global cargo traffic fell 1.5%, marking the second consecutive yearly drop, while the freight load factor reached 45.2%.
IATA director general and CEO Tony Tyler said that passenger demand grew strongly in 2012 despite the bad economic news that dominated much of the last twelve months.
"This demonstrates just how integral global air travel is for today’s connected world. At the same time, near-record load factors illustrate the extreme care with which airlines manage capacity," Tyler said.
"Growth and high aircraft utilisation combined to help airlines deliver an estimated $6.7 billion profit in 2012 despite high fuel prices.
"But with a net profit margin of just 1.0% the industry is only just keeping its head above the water."
Passenger load factors reached 79.1% in 2012, with respective rises of 6% and 4% in international and domestic traffic, which were mainly driven by traffic from emerging markets.
International traffic witnessed the highest growth from the Middle East with 15.4%, followed by 8.4% growth in traffic from Latin America. African traffic reported a 7.5% growth, while passenger capacity rose 4%, supporting the international load factor to reach 78.9%.
Domestic passenger traffic from China and Brazil grew 9.5% and 8.6% respectively, with India reporting the weakest demand in traffic with a 2.1% drop over 2011, while capacity grew 3.8%, which was in line with the 4% demand, and the domestic load factor reached 79.5%.
"In contrast to the growth in passenger markets the air cargo market contracted by 1.5%. The industry suffered a one-two punch," Tyler said.
"World trade declined sharply, and the goods that were traded shifted towards bulk commodities more suited for sea shipping.
"The outstanding bright spot was the development of trade between Asia and Africa, which supported strong growth for airlines based in the Middle East (14.7%) and Africa (7.1%)."
Air cargo during the period was mainly affected by a slowdown in global trade growth, witnessing a 0.2% rise in freight capacity, while the freight load factor stood at 45.2%.
IATA projected that global air travel demand growth will slow again in 2013, while the freight markets are expected to pick up from a drop in 2012.
"2013 will not be a banner year for profitability, but we should see some improvement on 2012," Tyler added.
Image: India reported the weakest demand in domestic traffic with a 2.1% drop during 2012.