Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

Passenger numbers at Asia-Pacific airports tumbled by nearly 10% in March, with individual gateways in the region down by as much as half. The Asian downturn also appears to be affecting international traffic through US West Coast gateways.

Worst hit in the region was Indonesia, with passenger numbers at Jakarta's main hub down by half in March and by nearly one-third over the first quarter.

Other major falls posted in March returns to the Airports Council International (ACI) include South Korea's Seoul showing a decline of 22% and Hong Kong 16%. Singapore's Changi Airport was down by more than 14% over the month and Taipei also showed a decline despite hopes that Taiwan had escaped the worst of the region's downturn.

Japan's economic slowdown fed through into a 9% fall for Tokyo Narita, although mainland China's main international gateway at Beijing edged up over the first quarter despite a hiccup in March. Sydney also showed an increase.

The ACI figures suggest a spiralling decline so far this year, which has left Asia-Pacific figures down by 7.4% overall in the first quarter, with returns now being compiled for April and May looking little better. North American growth also slowed to little more than standstill, rising just 1% in the first quarter. Among airports showing outright declines were Los Angeles and San Francisco, which act as Asian gateways.

Passenger numbers have also slowed at major domestic hubs, including Chicago O'Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth. Atlanta Hartsfield, however, continued to boom, toppling O'Hare from the head of the rankings.

Meanwhile, European airlines have seen traffic to the Far East and Australasia grow by 5% for the first five months of 1998.

Source: Flight International