Hong Kong Dragon Airlines is in talks to acquire additional Boeing 747 freighters, partly to alleviate an anticipated capacity crunch on its European cargo routes. The airline said volumes on its daily Hong Kong to Dubai, Amsterdam and Manchester cargo services had risen about 20 per cent to 30 per cent for the first three months from a year ago. Dragonair cargo manager Alan Lai confirmed reports that the airline was looking to add to its existing fleet of three B747-300 freighters, but said discussions were still at a preliminary stage. He also declined to be more specific. 'We are negotiating with some parties but there's nothing tangible at the moment,' Mr Lai said. 'We have always had plans to expand our cargo fleet and there's no secret that we are looking for aircraft. Really, we are paving the way for expansion.' Dragonair had said it was looking to source several used B747-400 passenger aircraft to be converted into freighters to be used on new services to the United States. However, it is more likely the present negotiations are for additional second-hand B747-300 aircraft to expand its Middle East and Europe services. Mr Lai said how quickly the freighter fleet expansion plan unfolded would depend on the pace of negotiations and the asking price for aircraft. 'Our three freighters now already have a high rate of utilisation,' he said. 'But given the . . . uncertainty [in the market], we are not urgently looking to grow.' Mr Lai said the westbound air-freight market was booming, with rates slightly better than the same time last year. But he said there was fear the growth could be short-lived. He said the war in Iraq might have pushed many European retailers to accelerate their summer inventory stockpiling. This, in concert with the traditional pre-Easter high season, might be responsible for the growth spurt, meaning a slowdown might be on the cards.