The world's airlines will see net profits of $15.1 billion US in 2010 because of an economic recovery that has turned out to be stronger than earlier expected and because of strong growth in Asia, says the International Air Transport Association.

Geneva-based IATA had predicted in September that industry profits would total $8.9 billion for the year.

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Japan Airlines planes park at Tokyo's Haneda Airport at the end of August. The world airline industry is expected to earn $15.1 billion US this year. ((Koji Sasahara/Associated Press))

While the uptick in this year's profits was a welcome surprise, "2011 is going to be a much more challenging period," said IATA chief economist Brian Pearce.

Heavy debts and added taxes will weigh on consumer travel spending in North America and Europe, he predicted.

The association, which represents 230 international airlines, predicted industry profits in 2011 would come in at $9.1 billion in 2011.

CEO Giovanni Bisignani told a news conference Tuesday that profit margins remain low, which could be a problem for the industry in the event of another economic shock.

With files from The Associated Press