Early signs of recovery in Asian air travel may be a statistical anomaly offering only false hope, some industry leaders fear. 'Definitely, there are worries that the strong performance over the holiday period has been due mainly to pent-up demand,' said Richard Stirland, director-general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines at a travel industry round table yesterday. 'Consumers put off their travel plans immediately after the events of September 11, waiting until Christmas to travel. But the period we are entering now does not seem so rosy.' Recent months have seen steady improvement in traffic from leading Asian airlines, after bottoming in October in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States. In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways' December results were encouraging, with the number of passengers falling just 2.4 per cent compared with the same month a year earlier. Passenger numbers were down 13.8 per cent in November. Lionel Kwok, general manager of Abacus Distribution Systems (Hong Kong), a computer ticket reservations system, said he was wary of claims the market was on its way to recovery. 'While the number of travellers in December and January showed double-digit growth over last year, in fact, travellers are making their arrangements much later now, rather than months in advance,' he said. While acknowledging predictions for the first three months were hard - the Lunar New Year fell later this year than last - Mr Kwok said 'our own internal predictions are much less optimistic' on a year-on-year analysis. Looking at forward bookings, Mr Stirland said the situation was 'very much in line with what the airlines are thinking'. 'Speaking in the terms of our stockbroking friends, the holiday period seems to have been very much a 'dead cat bounce'.'