The worst of the airline industry's troubles may be over, according to the latest operational statistics from Chek Lap Kok. According to the figures for last month, released yesterday by the Airport Authority, the rate of decline in passenger and cargo throughput showed a marked easing compared with October. Aviation sector analysts said this supported the general consensus that while the business outlook for airlines would continue to be tough for the next several months, the industry has moved past the worst of its traffic declines. 'The industry already knows that the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2002 will be tough,' said Philip Wickham, a regional airline analyst for ING Barings. 'But these figures suggest that the trough occurred in October and now we've passed it. 'The figures aren't surprising at all. They support expectations for an industry recovery in the middle part of next year.' The authority said total passenger throughput at Chek Lap Kok last month was 2.38 million, a fall of 9.3 per cent compared with the same period last year. But this compared with a 12 per cent year-on-year drop in passenger numbers in October. Cargo slowed by 5.4 per cent to 203,000 tonnes, again showing a strengthening from the 6.3 per cent fall during the previous month. Aircraft movements last month through the airport numbered 15,840, an increase of 1.4 per cent. The authority's statistics for last month reflect the experience of other significant Asian airlines that have so far reported their traffic figures for the same period. China Eastern Airlines last week said its traffic declines last month fell by half compared with October. 'The [Chek Lap Kok] figures also confirm that while airlines' asset utilisation rates remain weak, they are steadily improving nonetheless,' Mr Wickham said. Investors in Asia already are expecting an industry recovery, with airline stocks having been some of the region's best performers in recent weeks. Cathay Pacific Airways has rebounded nearly 25 per cent since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, which triggered a massive sell-off in the sector's counters. 'Investors are looking at airline stocks as a good recovery play,' said another airline analyst with a European brokerage firm. 'The fundamentals are there for a recovery. Oil prices are low, business travel seems to have more or less fully factored in the impact of the economic slowdown and leisure travel seems to have stabilised.' Cathay is expected to report its statistics for last month next week and analysts say they will be looking carefully to see whether the company also follows the recovery trend. Last month, Cathay reported an 18 per cent year-on-year drop in October's revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) - a widely watched barometer that measures the total distance flown by passengers within an airline - for October. That represented a 4.5 percentage point drop in RPK from September. From April, the start of the authority's financial year, passenger traffic declined 3.3 per cent, while cargo fell 9.8 per cent compared with the same month last year. Aircraft movements have increased 8.1 per cent. For the 12 months to last month, passenger throughput fell 0.2 per cent to 33.10 million. Cargo traffic fell 7.3 per cent to 2.08 million tonnes, while aircraft movements increased 8.9 per cent to 196,385.