The number of air passengers and amount of cargo processed in the SAR showed a marked decline last month. But the Airport Authority said the drop was attributable more to the economic slowdown than the terrorist attacks in the US. The authority warned the figures could decline further this month as military action intensified in Afghanistan and several airlines cut back flights. The authority recorded 2.59 million passengers and 182,000 tonnes of cargo in September, a drop of 7.2 per cent and 10.1 per cent from their respective totals in September last year. 'The Airport Authority attributed the decline in passengers and cargo to the continuing slowdown in the world economy, particularly among key trading partners,' an authority spokesman said. Passenger numbers had been relatively unaffected - declining less than 0.5 per - by the September 11 attacks, despite the closure of US airports for several days afterwards. Cargo handled stood at 2.1 million tonnes over the past 12 months, down 5.3 per cent compared to the same period last year. However, there were 16,590 passenger and cargo flights in and out of Chek Lap Kok last month, representing a 6.9 per cent increase since last September. Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said the fall in travel business had been reflected in a 13 per cent drop in receipts from the council levy on tour groups compared to last September. 'The terror attacks had an impact on the sector. Were it not for the September 11 incident, we would have expected the [levy] figure for last month to increase or remain around the same as that of last year,' he said. The council expected the local travel industry to lose $24 million in business over the next two months as tours to North America were postponed or cancelled. 'Travel agencies want to organise tours to North America. The fact is no one wants to go,' Mr Tung said. Two weeks after the attacks, the council estimated the number of tours to Hong Kong from the US had dropped by almost 90 per cent while those coming to Hong Kong from other countries had dropped by between 30 and 40 per cent. The fear of terrorism also stopped Hong Kong people from travelling abroad and caused a 40 per cent drop in turnover on air ticketing and hotel bookings. Mr Tung said yesterday he expected the trend to continue. 'The problem is we don't know for how long the military action in Afghanistan is going to last,' he said. He did not expect the drop in business to force travel agencies to close, but some tour operators and ticketing firms should brace for hard times ahead.