The Sars outbreak in Asia trimmed Cathay Pacific Airways' passenger numbers by about 18 per cent year on year despite a strong Christmas period for Hong Kong's flagship airline. About 2.26 million fewer passengers flew Cathay last year than in 2002, with the airline barely passing the 10-million mark after reducing its available seats by a comparative 6 per cent. However, the airline's management was heartened by a strong turnaround in the latter half of the year, when Cathay carried 50 per cent more passengers than it did in the first half. 'December was a very good month, with pent-up demand for leisure travel over Christmas and New Year helping us end the year on a high note,' said Ian Shiu, general manager of revenue management, sales and distribution. The airline carried 1.11 million passengers last month, up marginally on the year before. Cargo revenue remained strong despite Sars and a smaller impact from the war in Iraq. The carrier moved just over 874,700 tonnes of cargo across its network last year, or about 7,000 tonnes less than in 2002.