An international airline is to axe passenger flights from the SAR because of a slump in bookings and high charges at Chek Lap Kok. After six years in the territory, Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) - which flies five times a week to Europe - will end its Hong Kong service on March 1. SAS has signed a code-sharing agreement with Singapore Airlines and will operate through Changi Airport, Chek Lap Kok's main competitor. Last night, an SAS executive called for Hong Kong airport authorities to 'loosen' what he claimed was Cathay Pacific's grip on the new airport. SAS employs about 30 people in the SAR and executives said staff cuts would be inevitable. The departure of SAS from Hong Kong is believed to be the first pullout by an airline since the US carrier Delta Air quit three years ago. SAS senior vice-president Vagn Sorenson said Hong Kong had become a substantially 'unprofitable route' and one of the factors hitting the bottom line was landing charges. 'We tried cutting back to four flights but we are stuck with a lot of overheads. Passenger numbers have been going down since 1995 but after the handover, with the bird flu, things just went from bad to worse. Obviously the charges at Chek Lap Kok have a bearing,' he said. Mr Sorenson said business passengers were down on flights to the SAR while the corresponding numbers were up for Singapore. He added: 'They [Cathay] certainly don't make things easy for us. I think the authorities should loosen the system up. I am sorry we have to do this but maybe if Cathay had negotiated a deal with us things would be better.' The SAS boss said axing Chek Lap Kok operations was part of a global re-adjustment which had seen routes cut to Rotterdam, Venice and Archangel in Russia. Andrew Herdman, chief spokesman for Cathay's parent, Swire, said carriers all over the world were cutting back on their Asian routes because of the economic downturn. Responding to Mr Sorensen's criticism that Cathay had a grip on the new airport, Mr Herdman said: 'Cathay has fewer slots than most hub-based carriers in the world; I don't think that argument can be justified.' SAS will maintain its cargo operations from Chek Lap Kok for the time being.