Airline Group Expects 3.3B Air Travelers By 2014

SINGAPORE (AP) - Global airline travel will likely jump to 3.3 billion passengers by 2014 as Asia's fast economic growth drives the industry's expansion, the International Air Transport Association said Monday.

Asia will likely account for 45 percent of the 800 million increase in air travelers between 2009 and 2014, IATA Chief Executive Giovanni Bisignani said at a news conference. China will be the fastest growing market for international passengers, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Malaysia, Bisignani said.

Asian carriers should earn about $4.6 billion this year compared with just $100 million of profit for their European competitors, reflecting the gap between the economic growth rates of the two regions, Bisignani said.

"Look at one number, GDP" he said. "When you see Singapore ... and China have double digit growth and in Europe we're struggling between 1 and 2 percent, that's how the industry is going."

The association expects gross domestic product in the Asia Pacific area to grow 6.6 percent this year, Europe to expand 1 percent and the U.S. to grow 1.5 percent.

Asia overtook North America as the largest aviation market in 2009 and will account for 30 percent of air traffic by 2014, while North America will slip to 23 percent.

Bisignani reiterated that the global airline industry will likely earn $9.1 billion this year, down from $15.1 billion last year as higher fuel costs eat into profits.

Fuel oil accounts for about 27 percent of an airline's costs and the industry will likely spend $156 billion on fuel this year from $139 billion last year, he said. The Geneva-based IATA expects Brent crude to average $84 a barrel this year, and every $1 above that will increase the industry's costs by $1.6 billion.

"Higher oil prices could spoil our party," Bisignani said.