Total passenger traffic at Chek Lap Kok airport dropped a lower-than-expected 0.9 per cent last year, despite the disruption from the September terrorist attacks and the world economic downturn. The number of passengers passing through the airport last year was 33.06 million, compared with 33.37 million the year before, according to Airport Authority figures. However, cargo traffic was less immune to the disruption. It fell 7.4 per cent to 2.08 million tonnes last year. Total flight movement, including passengers, cargo and non-revenue flights, increased 8.2 per cent to 196,805. Airport Authority chief executive officer David Pang was pleased with the results. 'Given the circumstances of 2001, they are better than expected,' he said. Last month, passengers amounted to 2.76 million, down 0.9 per cent compared with the same period in the previous year. Although passenger numbers are still falling, the rate of decline appears to be slowing. Passenger throughput dropped 9.3 per cent year on year in November and 12 per cent in October. Last month, the number of flights was up 2.6 per cent year on year to 16,570, attributed to more flights to and from the mainland, Taiwan and Japan. Salomon Smith Barney head of research Eric Chan Wing-fat said a 0.9 per cent full-year decrease in passenger numbers was not bad considering that the United States suspended flights for two weeks in September and business operations could only return to normal in October. He said the moderate decrease reflected not only the strength of last year's first half but also the terrorist attacks' impact being short term. Mr Chan expected a fresh start for the aviation business this year as the impact from the September 11 disruption wore off. He said the decrease in cargo traffic, which was greater than that in passenger traffic, was due to cautious consumer sentiment following the September attacks. In the subsequent three months, manufacturers in United States decided to run down their inventory by producing fewer products, thereby lowering cargo demand. According to the Airport Authority, air cargo last month dropped only 1.3 per cent year on year to 192,000 tonnes, with the 7.2 per cent decline in imports partly offset by a 3.4 per cent rise in exports. Mr Pang said last month's cargo figures were good and he hoped this marked the start of a return to growth.