Worldwide annual air passenger numbers exceeded 4 billion for the first time in 2017, supported by a broad-based improvement in global economic conditions and lower average airfares, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced this week.

At the same time, airlines connected a record number of cities worldwide, providing regular services to over 20,000 city pairs in 2017, more than double the level of 1995. Such increases in direct services improve the industry’s efficiency by cutting costs and saving time for both travelers and shippers alike, the airline trade organization says.

“In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO. “Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure and education.”

System-wide, airlines carried 4.1 billion passengers on scheduled services in 2017, an increase of 7.3 percent, the IATA data shows. Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region carried the largest number of passengers and accounted for 36.3 percent of the total. Europe followed with a 26.3 percent market share, North America with a 23 percent market share, Latin America with 7 percent, the Middle East with 5.3 percent and Africa with 2.2 percent.

North America had the slowest rate of growth, up 3.2 percent to 941.8 million passengers. Asia-Pacific was the most dynamic region with passenger numbers advancing 10.6 percent to 1.5 billion.

American Airlines was the largest carrier in 2017, ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometers, followed by Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Emirates Airlines and Southwest Airlines round out the top five.

On the cargo side, tonnage of freight and mail increased 9.9 percent in 2017, outstripping a capacity increase of 5.3 percent.