Another year, another record number of airline passengers.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported this week that 4.4 billion passengers travelled on scheduled flights in 2018, an increase of 6.9 per cent, driven in part by sharp reductions in the cost of air travel.

Connectivity and efficiency also improved, according to the IATA World Air Transport Statistics report, which found that 81.9 per cent of all available airline seats were filled last year, and that the number of city pairs connected by direct flights doubled between 1998 and 2017.

“Airlines are connecting more people and places than ever before. The freedom to fly is more accessible than ever. And our world is a more prosperous place as a result,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

The real cost of air transport has more than halved over the last 20 years, the IATA report said, as the development of low-cost carrier capacity continues to outpace growth among legacy airlines.

Air travel in the Asia-Pacific region has continued to grow rapidly and now represents 37.1 per cent of all passengers transported globally, easily topping Europe and North America.

American Airlines transported the most passengers in 2018 when calculated by total distance flow, followed by Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Emirates, and Southwest Airlines.

The report estimated that fuel efficiency improved by 12 per cent between 2010 and 2018.

“We understand that sustainability is essential to our license to spread aviation’s benefits,” said de Juniac, who noted the airline industry’s plans to cap net carbon emissions growth and halve its carbon footprint by 2050.