Surging demand from Europe has supported robust air freight growth this year, thanks in part to increased buying power accompanying a strengthening euro, according to industry executives. Air freight volume in Hong Kong grew a comparative 10 per cent this year, despite a high base last year due to the port lockout that occurred in the United States, said Francis Lo, district manager at DHL Airborne Express. 'Demand from European markets has been rising since September. I think the growth is backed by the strong currency,' Mr Lo said. Shippers saw better than expected demand as the manufacturing centres in South China continued to lure buyers from overseas. Hongkong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd, which handled about 80 per cent of cargo at Chek Lap Kok airport, is set to see throughput of two million tonnes this year - the first general air-cargo terminal to break that barrier. It handled 1.91 million tonnes last year. Sunny Ho Lap-kee, executive director for the Hong Kong Shippers' Council, said demand from the US remained steady but there was a sharp rise from European markets such as Spain and Italy. 'We didn't expect any charter flights in the first half but indeed we had quite a lot in the second half, meaning the demand was great,' Mr Ho said. According to the Civil Aviation Department, there were 615 chartered cargo flights in the fourth quarter. Hong Kong Dragon Airlines, which counts Europe as its only long-haul operation, benefited from the trend, while enjoying strong cargo business from the mainland. In the first 11 months, the No2 carrier in Hong Kong increased its cargo capacity (available tonne kilometres) by 16.5 per cent, while cargo volumes, represented by cargo tonne kilometres, surged 36.2 per cent. 'I think the air freight market will continue to grow next year. The strong euro will continue to stimulate China exports,' an airline executive said. Dragonair operates three 747-200 freighters and flies seven times a week to Europe. It will take delivery of a fourth aircraft in the first quarter next year. Air France, which flies six weekly cargo flights between Hong Kong and Paris with a 747-200 freighter, also saw increasing cargo volumes. The flights were always 80 per cent full, according to airline management.