The price of an air-cargo charter from Chek Lap Kok to the United States almost doubled last week as labour troubles in the West Coast ports triggered a surge in demand, according to freight forwarders. They said increased prices would probably continue indefinitely and air shipments to the US would also see increased delays as a result of the rise in demand. Although freight forwarders said they had foreseen the extra demand during the peak season - booking more chartered flights as early as June - the extra capacity had not been enough to meet the rise in demand as a result of fears over the labour unrest. Steen Marcuslund, vice-president of transpacific development for Panalpina, expected the price of chartered cargo flights to stay high in the coming few weeks, even though dock workers were now back to work. He said this was because it would take time for the cargo congestion at the West Coast ports to be sorted out. One local freight forwarder said orders for air shipments had gone up at least 50 per cent over last year as exporters shifted goods to air to ensure delivery in time for the Christmas holidays. 'We have an excess demand of several hundred tonnes, which will take about five days to get to a flight. It is a three-to-five day delay [now],' he said. By comparison, in the past, cargo could fly out almost immediately most of the time, he said. Freight forwarders said the cost of chartering a cargo flight to the US last week rose to HK$600,000 to HK$700,000, almost double the normal rate for this time of year. 'Flight bookings are now scheduled to the end of the month. We couldn't possibly charter another flight now because of the huge demand,' the forwarder said. 'Only those who can afford to pay can book a plane now. It's almost like a bid,' he said. US West Coast dock workers were forced back to work last Wednesday after President George W. Bush ordered an 80-day cooling-off period. Panalpina said it recorded double-digit growth in tonnage handled over the past two weeks. Mr Marcuslund said the company had deployed more flights to the US to manage the surge in demand. 'In normal times, we only get one to two flights flying to the US from our hub in Macau every week. But we have added the number to four,' Mr Marcuslund said. 'Basically, we have no problem in finding extra flights as we are diverting flights from all over the world to the transpacific route - all our flights are under a long- term chartered agreement,' he said. Scheduled airlines have also put up more flights to catch up with the rocketing demand. Rachel Berry, a spokeswoman for Atlas Air, said this month was the busiest period the firm had seen in a decade. The airline had booked more than 65 freighter flights over the 12 days of West Coast lockout, using Boeing 747 freighters. Based on an average capacity of 110 tonnes for each flight, the airline has increased its capacity by more than 7,150 tonnes because of the dispute. 'Based on charters flown and booked, we expected an over 60 per cent increase in the number of charter hours flown in October [compared with the same month last year],' Ms Berry said. 'This is always the busiest time of the year. But there have not been so many charters as this month for 10 years. 'The problem will only be eased after the port system has gone back to normal. There is a tremendous deadlock of cargo which won't return to normal until the end of November. We expect to be busy until then.'