The GCC is cementing its position as the global centre for the cargo industry. Air freight volumes between the Middle East and the Far East is growing at 17 per cent a year, faster than any other major route.

The two busiest regional airports by freight volume – Dubai International (with 2.4 million tonnes last year), and Doha International (with 883,000 tonnes) – fall short of Hong Kong International’s 4.1 million tonnes. UAE carrier Emirates, however, carries more freight than Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, or any other airline, including freight specialists Fedex and UPS.

The region’s position at the centre of the East-West corridor is driving the growth of the cargo industry, as is the fact that the arid Gulf region must import most of its food and goods.

Globally, air freight is growing, but not as fast as shipping. Ocean cargo volumes grew 7.4 per cent between 2000 and 2013, compared with air freight’s 2.6 per cent, which represented 1.7 per cent of containerised trade by weight in 2013, compared with 3 per cent in 2000.

Moving goods by sea is cheaper than by air; shipping is less vulnerable to fluctuating fuel prices and is also more environmentally sound. Fortunately, the Middle East is investing in a slew of new ports, cargo facilities and free zones, as well as its airports, and is building intermodal rail connections to facilitate transit between them. This means the region will continue to play a leading role in the handling of freight, whether transported by air or sea.