The Asia-Pacific region has overtaken North America as the world's largest air travel market with 647 million passengers in 2009, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Monday.
By contrast, 638 million people flew on commercial flights in North America last year, IATA said at an aviation business conference on the eve of the Singapore Airshow featuring the world's leading aviation industry players.
Within Asia, China has eclipsed Japan over the past decade as the region's largest domestic market, with 1,400 aircraft compared with Japan's 540 and 5.7 million weekly seats against 2.6 million in Japan.
IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani told the conference that the Asia-Pacific market will continue to grow rapidly with an estimated 217 million additional air passengers a year in the region by 2013.
"While we see dynamism and diversity within the region, the aspect of Asia-Pacific that excites me most is its potential," said Bisignani.
"More than a quarter of the 2.2 billion people who flew last year, or 647 million people, flew within Asia-Pacific markets.
"It has eclipsed travel within North America as the traditional leader in traffic numbers."
IATA represents some 230 carriers that account for more than 90 percent of scheduled air traffic, but does not include many of the budget airlines credited with a boom in short and medium-haul travel in recent years.
Its members in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and North America recorded year-on-year declines in passenger demand of 5.0 to 5.6 percent in 2009, according to an earlier IATA report.
But Asian airlines staged a stronger recovery in demand in December, at nearly twice the global average, while travel on European and North American carriers stagnated or slipped.