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Global air travel demand expected to pick up pace in 2013

GENEVA -- Global air travel demand rose 3.7 percent in January from a year earlier and may pick up pace in 2013, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Tuesday.

"Passenger travel is growing in line with business confidence levels. Recent months have seen some positive economic signs emerge in both the U.S. and China, and the euro zone crisis seems to have stabilized," said IATA Chief Executive Tony Tyler.

Challenges for the sector include high fuel costs and uncertain demand as the world's top economy the United States prepares to make across-the-board U.S. government budget cuts, he added.

"But even with those headwinds -- real and potential -- we still see underlying support for continued and potentially even strengthened growth," Tyler said.

Passenger traffic grew more rapidly than available capacity, which rose by 2.7 percent in January on international routes, meaning planes flew with fewer empty seats.

Air freight demand, also seen as a short-term leading indicator of economic growth, also grew strongly in the same month, driven by growth in Asia and the Middle East, IATA said on Monday.

IATA's members include major airlines such as Air France KLM , British Airways, Delta and Air China.