With the CAAC's plans for more direct links between mainland cities and the rest of the world, the biggest worry for Hong Kong's aviation industry is that it will be increasingly bypassed as a China gateway. 'China's liberalisation, if it includes Hong Kong, is positive for us. But if it doesn't, then it could be savage for our aspirations as the major Asian air travel hub,' said a senior local airline executive who did not want to be named. The CAAC's desire for more direct services to the mainland means that international business centres like Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Los Angeles and New York could eventually become convenient centres from which to fly directly to the mainland. The executive said the CAAC's liberalisation programme meant, at worst, 'a slow erosion of the Hong Kong hub's importance', while at best it indicated 'that we will have to work harder to attract travellers to come here'. It is an issue which the Airport Authority is struggling with as it prepares for privatisation. As a measure of the importance of onward-bound air travellers to the airport, last year about 23 million passengers passed the immigration turnstiles at Chek Lap Kok. Nearly 34 million passengers used the airport that year. 'How do we ensure Hong Kong's place on the list of important air hubs in Asia? We have to accept that competing against direct services is tough,' the executive said. 'But Hong Kong is an attractive stopover destination in its own right and a major business centre, too.' He said that Hong Kong airlines could compensate by concentrating on building larger networks of flights and by making Chek Lap Kok a more convenient 'one-stop shopping centre for flights' to anywhere in the mainland and beyond. 'By concentrating on developing our hub network, you can build more frequencies to try to counteract the convenience of direct flights, making it equally convenient for travellers to fly through Hong Kong. In this case, pricing will also be important,' the executive said. He said that Cathay Pacific already tried to fill this function for its North Asian passengers, of which about 40 per cent were already using Cathay flights to connect through Hong Kong to other destinations. 'We have to try and build more of this type of business,' he said.