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updated 1/29/2007 11:42:27 AM ET 2007-01-29T16:42:27

International airline passenger traffic grew 5.9 percent year-on-year in 2005, slower than the 7.6 percent growth seen in 2005, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Monday.

But the industry’s operating profit rose to $10.2 billion in 2006 from $4.3 billion the previous year, and its overall estimated net loss narrowed to $500 million from $3.2 billion, the Geneva-based organization said in a statement.

Freight traffic growth quickened to 4.6 percent year-on-year in 2006 from 3.2 percent previously.

“The lesson for 2006 is that pursuing profitable growth pays off. While passenger growth slowed, the bottom line improved,” said IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani.

IATA has forecast that traffic growth will continue to slow in 2007 as airlines focus more on profitable routes rather than seeking to boost overall market share, IATA spokesman Anthony Concil said.

With continued cost reduction and efficiency improvements, the industry is expecting to register a net profit of $2.5 billion in 2007, IATA added.

The Middle East was the fastest growing region for both passenger and cargo traffic in 2006, with the former rising 15.4 percent and the latter 16.1 percent.

All other regions saw slower passenger traffic growth compared with 2005, IATA said.

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