NEW YORK - Every week, a combined total of 28 new planes roll off the assembly lines at Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, and Embraer factories - the fastest production rate in the history of commercial aviation. Most of those aircraft feed the insatiable demand in Asia.

The rapid growth of Asian airlines is helping to bolster economies and change lifestyles, but it's also creating a daunting safety challenge as more passengers head into an increasingly crowded airspace.

Much of the boom has been driven by the surge in popularity of Southeast Asia's budget carriers, such as AirAsia, whose Flight 8501 disappeared Sunday morning on its way to Singapore. The aviation disaster has put a new spotlight on the obstacles that lie ahead for the booming region.

For each new plane, airlines need to hire and train at least 10 to 12 pilots, sometimes more, according to industry experts.

Right now, Asia-Pacific accounts for 31 percent of global air passenger traffic, according to the International Air Transport Association. Within two decades, that figure is forecast to jump to 42 percent, as Asia adds an extra 1.8 billion annual passengers for an overall market size of 2.9 billion.

Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any part of the world, accounting for 40 percent of the global demand.

To put that in perspective, there are about 104,000 pilots working in the United States, flying everything from crop dusters to jumbo jets, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The dearth of trained staff means there are fewer workers to juggle an ever-growing workload - and that comes with risks.

That said, the aviation industry has generally done an amazing job of improving safety while doubling the number of passengers in the last 15 years.

Last year, 3.1 billion passengers flew, twice the total in 1999. Yet the chances of dying in a plane crash were much lower.

Since 2000, there were less than three fatalities per 10 million passengers, according to an Associated Press analysis of crash data provided by aviation consultancy Ascend. In the 1990s, there were nearly eight; during the 1980s there were 11; and the 1970s had 26 deaths per 10 million passengers.

That is not to say some parts of the world aren't more dangerous than others. Indonesia has a particularly bumpy safety record.

In 2007, the safety standards there were so bad that the European Union prohibited all of Indonesia's airlines from flying into any of its member countries. That ban was lifted Aug. 17, 2009; however, Indonesia's main airline - quickly growing Lion Air - is still banned by the EU.