Kick-starting the Japanese economy and getting its tourists flying again are the keys to reviving Asia's troubled economies, according to Larry Dickenson, the Asia-Pacific vice-president of Boeing Commercial Airplane Group. In Hong Kong yesterday, Mr Dickenson said he felt 'the worst is behind us' in terms of the Asian slump, but a recovery in Japan - which he said accounted for 70 per cent of the East Asian economy - was crucial to hopes for a regional upturn. 'By and large I feel that the Japanese have recognised the problem and I believe they are one of the best societies in executing plans in terms of discipline,' he said. 'The key to their recovery will be the confidence of the consumer. What needs to happen to Hong Kong and other tourist destinations is for Japanese to start travelling again.' If Japan's economy began to recover this year, he said: 'I think things will start to happen here too.' He added that he believed there was a direct correlation between economic prospects and growth in air traffic. Asia has been a tough market for aircraft manufacturers and airlines since the regional crisis began in mid-1997 and Mr Dickenson admitted that generally, 'we were really happy to see 1998 end'. Boeing, the world's largest commercial aircraft manufacturer, delivered a record 564 aircraft globally last year, of which 140 were to Asia, including 40 to the mainland. It expects the figure to rise to more than 600 this year. Mr Dickenson said Boeing, the biggest US exporter, had been lobbying US government officials and politicians for the mainland to 'have a normalised trading status and . . . to ascend to the World Trade Organisation'. 'We get concerned when issues like the trade deficit and most favoured nation [trading status] become political issues,' he said. 'We have been on record as favouring permanent WTO status for China. Exports are crucial to the continued economic growth of our country.' Boeing China president Ray Bracy said US and mainland aviation officials were in talks aimed at almost doubling the number of weekly flights between the two countries in the next three years from the existing 27. Another issue under negotiation, he said, was increasing the number of carriers able to fly between the two countries. He said Boeing had also established a programme - The A-Z of airline management - for officials at mainland airlines designed to give them intensive training at Boeing's Seattle headquarters on how to run a profitable airline.