updated 10/24/2007 2:32:53 PM ET 2007-10-24T18:32:53

The air transport industry will handle 2.75 billion passengers in 2011, around 620 million more than in 2006, the International Air Transport Association said in forecasts announced Wednesday.

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According to passenger and freight traffic projections, international passenger demand is expected to increase from 760 million passengers in 2006 to 980 million in 2011, growing at an average annual rate of 5.1 percent. This will be lower than the average growth rate of 7.4 percent recorded between 2002-2006, due to slightly slower global economic growth.

Domestic passenger demand is expected to grow from 1.37 billion passengers in 2006 to 1.77 billion in 2011, fueled by expansion in the Indian and Chinese domestic markets, according to a report by the IATA, the governing body that regulates international air transport.

"The numbers clearly show that the world wants to fly. And it also needs to fly. ... The livelihoods of 32 million people are tied to aviation, accounting for $3.5 trillion in economic activity," said Giovanni Bisignani, the director general and chief executive of the Geneva-based IATA. He spoke at the opening session of the Arab Air Carriers Organization meeting in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday.

In his speech, Bisignani warned that a looming infrastructure crisis could threaten the benefits.

"Failure to prepare adequately to meet demand will have an environmental cost with inefficient use of airspace and delays. There is no panacea, but the starting point for a sustainable solution is a common vision for efficiency that is acted on by governments and industry," he said.

Bisignani said parts of the world were effectively managing infrastructure development to anticipate and meet demand, particularly the Middle East and China.

"But the enormous anticipated expansion in India that has fueled record aircraft orders could be cut short by insufficient airport and air traffic management capacity," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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