Cathay Pacific Airways continued to experience strong growth in passenger traffic last month although its cargo volume dropped nearly 11 per cent year-on-year. Cathay and its wholly-owned subsidiary Dragonair saw cargo volumes fall 10.7 per cent to 144,140 tonnes last month despite signs of recovery in the cargo sector. Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals (Hactl), which handles 70 per cent of air cargo in Chek Lap Kok, reported a 0.7 per cent year-on-year drop in tonnage last month, the best performance in 16 months. 'Our loading in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta was very much in line with Hactl,' Nick Rhodes, cargo director of Cathay, said. 'The tonnage in Pearl River Delta, in fact, had a small increase over 2011.' However, eastern China, India and Europe were well behind last year, he added. Cathay said March was the strongest month so far this year due to the large shipments of hi-tech consumer goods from southern China. However, the general market for airfreight remains soft, particularly into Europe, said James Woodrow, general manager of cargo sales and marketing for Cathay Pacific. Passenger volume grew 10.6 per cent to 2.4 million in March, but the strong growth was distorted by comparison with weak traffic to Japan last year after the quake and tsunami. 'The big issue at the moment is the accelerating yield decline in both the economy and premium cabins, resulting from a combination of the continuing economic uncertainty and competitive pressure,' said James Tong, general manager of revenue management for Cathay. The yield decline was due to the downward pressure on air fares. Analysts suggested the pressure on ticket prices would accelerate since more budget carriers are coming on stream in the region. Three low-cost carriers will start operation in Japan this year. Jetstar Hong Kong, the joint venture between Qantas and China Eastern Airlines, will begin with three Airbus 320s and roll out service in Hong Kong next year. It is expected to grow to 18 A320s by 2015. Shares in Cathay dropped 1.76 per cent to HK$13.38 yesterday.