Asia's major airlines face an uncertain year ahead as world economic gloom conspires against profitable growth more than a year and a half after a global slowdown first began, according to British Airways chief executive Rod Eddington. But that pessimism should be mitigated by persistent economic growth in the region outside of Japan and the management skills of the best Asian carriers, he said. 'I think the Asian airlines are not spared some of the challenges that we all face,' said Mr Eddington, in Hong Kong to attend the annual meeting of BA's board of directors. At the same time, though, 'Asia's the one real growth market in the world at the moment'. Mr Eddington was a managing director of Cathay Pacific Airways before leaving Hong Kong in 1997 to head Ansett Airlines and co-chair News Corp, Rupert Murdoch's Australian media arm. 'Security is an issue for every airline in every market, not just for the American and European airlines; rising insurance costs place a burden on us. And I think a number of the major economies are clearly struggling,' he said. 'The Japanese economy stalled over a decade ago and is still stalled. There are some worrying signs from Germany and we're getting mixed signals about what is happening to the US economy. 'I think in that environment, airlines will think long and hard about how they can pursue profitable growth opportunity.' Asian carriers will face the same challenges ahead as airlines elsewhere in the world, Mr Eddington said. But Asia's continued economic growth mitigates the gloom. 'Asia's probably the only market in the world that is really growing. If you look at [BA's] business, the North Atlantic [has seen] double-digit reductions year on year, not just for BA but for all the European carriers,' Mr Eddington said. By contrast, 'if you look at the good numbers that are coming out of Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific at the moment, there are some real opportunities here'. The biggest difference, Mr Eddington said, was in the direction of revenue growth for Asian airlines. 'If you look at the well-run Asian carriers, their top line has been growing. 'But if you look at the US carriers after September 11, there have been substantial reductions in revenue and that puts them under enormous pressure.' For Mr Eddington, China is the biggest opportunity for foreign airlines eyeing Asian expansion. 'What are the opportunities? If you look at China today, we are just beginning to see real outbound growth from China.' As such, European airlines are looking increasingly to drive tourism from China. But so far, the 'real opportunities in China have come from within Asia'. 'Look at the network that Dragonair has into China now and similarly for Japan Airlines, and Korean Airlines and Asiana,' Mr Eddington said. 'When I worked in Korea in 1980 and 1981, Korean Airlines couldn't even fly into China, much less have Korean tourists travelling there. 'Now they fly not just to places like Shanghai and Beijing and Guangzhou, but a whole range of smaller destinations as well,' Mr Eddington said. For the coming year, 'airlines will be doubly focused on their cost base and try to ensure that they are as efficient and productive as they can be', especially in a very competitive Asian market, he said. But under those terms, 'Singapore Airlines and Cathay have moved well ahead of the pack'.