U.S. imports grew more than exports in the fourth quarter of last year, as a jump in civilian aircraft purchases increased the nation's foreign trade deficit to $124.1 billion, a 15 percent jump that exceeded expectations, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Economists surveyed by Reuters forecast a $114.2 billion deficit versus a revised deficit of $107.6 billion in the third quarter and a second-quarter figure of $124.7 billion.

The current account deficit is the broadest measure of the nation's international trade. It includes services like investment flows and air travel, for example, as well as the trade in physical goods like cars, clothes and appliances.

The fourth-quarter's deficit on goods and services increased to $141.1 billion from $134.7 billion in the third quarter. The deficit on goods increased to $186.3 billion in the fourth quarter from $180.9 billion in the third quarter.

Goods exports decreased to $380.4 billion from $382.7 billion, and goods imports increased to $566.7 billion from $563.5 billion.

Besides a big jump in aircraft imports, the U.S. posted big increases in imports of engines and parts, Commerce said.

For all of 2011, the U.S. current-account deficit  increased to $473.4 billion from $470.9 billion in 2010, the second consecutive annual increase in the deficit. The increase resulted from a rise in the deficit on goods that was nearly offset by increases in the surpluses on income and on services and a decrease in net unilateral current transfers to foreigners.