GENEVA (AP) _ Airports handled more than 2.8 billion passengers last year, an increase of 2.9 percent, according to figures released Tuesday.

The rise occurred despite the Asian economic crisis, which pushed passenger figures in the Asia-Pacific region down by 5.6 percent to 426.7 million and cargo down by 3.8 percent, said the Airports Council International.

Some 1.3 billion people passed through North American airports _ a rise of 2.2 percent _ while European airports handled 868.7 million people, 7.8 percent up on 1997. The Latin American and Caribbean region witnessed the biggest growth, up 10 percent to 120.1 million passengers.

Some 73.5 million passengers passed through Atlanta Hartsfield airport in 1998, making it the world's busiest. Chicago's O'Hare airport followed with 72.3 million people and Los Angeles with 61.2 million. London's Heathrow airport was in fourth position worldwide with 60.7 million passengers.

The Geneva-based council is an industry group for airports worldwide.