Luxembourg-based Cargolux Airlines registered 19 per cent growth in air-cargo business in Asia last year. President and chief executive Heiner Wilkens said the year had been most profitable for the airline, which saw record revenue and tonnage. 'We reached a return on sales of 8 per cent, which is not too bad for an airline,' he said. Cargolux had 10 per cent growth westbound from Asia to Europe and 8 per cent growth in the opposite direction. Mr Wilkens said Asia's past record indicated it would soon emerge from its financial crisis without too much trouble. While his main concern was Indonesia, even that area would continue to grow in the long term. The currency devaluation would give manufacturers incentives to increase exports to the United States and Europe, supporting global sourcing and global production - the backbone of the air-cargo industry. As more businesses progressed towards less inventory - relying on lower production and reliable on-time delivery services - demand on the air-cargo industry was increasing, he said. Cargolux was buying new aircraft to meet this demand and to ensure the required standards of reliability. Cargolux owns five B747-400 freighters and four B747-200 freighters, including one leased from Southern Air Transport. It is due to take delivery of its next B747-400 in December. It already has sold the 19-year-old 747-200s, which will leave the fleet when it takes delivery of the new 747-400s. By the end of next year, it will fly only B747-400 aircraft. Excluding the 747-200s, the Cargolux fleet age averages two years. Mr Wilkens said B747-400s were the most reliable aircraft for its services, including long-range flights such as between Luxembourg, South America and Asia. Cargolux vice-president for Asia-Pacific Matthew Ma said while a B747-400 could carry a payload of 115 tonnes flying non-stop between Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, its maximum capacity was 129 tonnes per flight. Last year, Cargolux recorded an average 93 per cent load factor globally. Mr Wilkens said while Cargolux had to be on watch for competition, he was not worried because the global air-cargo market was growing by 7 per cent annually. There was sufficient cargo for everybody. Asia and the US each supply 25 per cent of Cargolux's business. The balance comes from Europe, Middle East, Africa and South America. Last year, Cargolux - which flies to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Madras and Japan - handled close to 10,000 tonnes in Hong Kong and more than 13,000 tonnes in Taiwan. Mr Wilkens said the carrier was in negotiations with mainland authorities and planned to fly there in the near future. He said the South American market, which Cargolux had been servicing for nearly two years, was developing well. Cargolux flies to Sau Paulo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Columbia, Chile and Bogota, and the west coast of the US. The carrier, which has more than 1,000 employees worldwide, forecasts 9 per cent growth in its Europe-US operations this year. Mr Wilkens said the company was international, employing pilots from 33 countries. Cargolux was re-engineering its cargo handling and management computer system, called Champ, with an investment of US$8 million, to make it more up to date, faster and compatible with other general business software systems. It also was investing US$30 million in a 747 hangar in Luxembourg which would be ready by 2000. It will be used for maintenance of aircraft to the highest standards.