Air Travel in Asia-Pacific Rebounds After Previous Year's SARS Outbreak

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ The number of international passengers traveling on the Asia-Pacific region's major airlines rose 22.5 percent in 2004 from the previous year to 117 million, an aviation group said, signaling the industry's recovery from 2003's SARS crisis.

''The unexpectedly strong rebound in passenger traffic in 2004 was a welcome relief,'' the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines said. It ''has generally resulted in higher revenues and better profitability, despite markedly higher fuel costs.''

Many airlines were hit hard in 2003 when health fears linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome hurt air travel. The World Health Organization advised people to stay away from Asian areas affected by the SARS outbreak.

Thousands of flights were cut and the industry lost hundreds of millions of dollars (euros).

Airlines might face more obstacles in 2005 to being profitable, the Asia-Pacific airline group said.

''The challenges of continuing high fuel prices and keen competition will remain important factors affecting profitability,'' the group said in a statement.

The trade association represents Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, China Airlines, Dragonair, EVA Air, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Qantas Airways, Royal Brunei Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International and Vietnam Airlines.

SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774 worldwide _ the vast majority of them in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan _ before being brought under control by quarantines, patient isolation and travel restrictions.