Chris Jasper/LONDON

ASIA's economic crisis took a major toll on the air cargo sector worldwide last year, while severely denting growth in passenger traffic. The slowdown hit hardest at airports within Asia, although several US terminals also suffered, figures released by Airports Council International (ACI) reveal.

ACI, which produced statistics for 565 member airports, show that cargo tonnage grew by only 1.1% compared with the previous year, passenger traffic by 2.9% and aircraft movements by 2.2%. The Asia-Pacific region suffered a fall in all three categories, with passengers down 5.6%, cargo down 3.8% and movements down 4.3%.

In passenger traffic terms, Atlanta Hartsfield snatched the number one spot from Chicago O'Hare, which retains its status in terms of movements, with Los Angeles and London Heathrow leapfrogging Dallas-Fort Worth into third and fourth. Seoul suffered the biggest reversal among the top 30 airports, with passenger numbers down 20%. Hong Kong was next worse-off, with traffic down 3.8%.

Freight tonnage fell across the board, with top 10 players Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo hit badly, along with Bangkok, ranked 24 and down 6.7%, and Singapore, 12 and down 3.9%.

Several top US and European airports also saw a decline in airfreight, although Memphis and Louisville, home to FedEx and UPS respectively, showed gains, as did Anchorage, ranked 11 and dealing almost wholly in transit freight.

Despite the gloom, ACI's senior manager, statistics and data processing Maria Hinayon, says the worst may be over for Asia's airports, with passenger traffic there holding steady in December, compared with the same month in 1997 after 14 months of decline.

Source: Flight International