British Airways believes the worst of the plunge in Asian air travel since the onset of the economic crisis may finally be passing. The British flag carrier's London-based director for Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, David Noyes, said business so far this year had been at least on par with last year, indicating that the downturn may have bottomed. Mr Noyes visited Hong Kong while on a familiarisation tour of Asia, his new command, last week. 'We are no longer seeing the year-on-year declines that were evident six months ago,' Mr Noyes said. 'I think the market is starting to steady itself now. In some places volumes have actually begun to pick up.' Most Asian carriers have already faced two successive years of declining passenger numbers. United Airlines on Friday said it was cancelling its planned re-introduction of a second daily flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco in June due to lack of interest. Still, Mr Noyes said there was now a 'cautious optimism' of a recovery soon. The question now, he said, was how quickly business would bounce back. 'The major issue for British Airways over the past 18 months has been the downturn in business in this part of the world,' Mr Noyes said. 'When you look at the entire region, it is a mixed story. South Asia and Australasia have been doing quite well. 'But, as you know, the rest of Asia has been suffering.' In certain markets, such as in Hong Kong, the decline in passengers has been as high as 30 per cent. Late last year, the carrier decided it had to act to stem the pain in Asia, Mr Noyes said. 'We had to consolidate our network in an effort to try and get business on a sounder economic footing,' he said. British Airways decided to withdraw from certain routes altogether, including those to Seoul and western Japan, where traffic had plummeted. For other routes where there is still a high degree of business uncertainty, such as to Jakarta, frequencies were slashed significantly. 'We had six flights per week travelling London to Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, but the Jakarta leg of the route has been reduced to two flights per week, with the aircraft flying on to Australia instead on the remaining days,' Mr Noyes said. While it had no plans to further reduce flights to the region, Mr Noyes said the carrier may begin reducing capacity - and, hence, costs - on Asian routes by swapping the larger Boeing 747-400s for the long-haul versions of the new narrow-bodied 777 as they became available.