While the global air freight industry handled 10 per cent less cargo last year than in 2008, airlines based in the Gulf handled 3.9 per cent more – a sign of the strength of local demand for imported luxury goods and of its role as an international trade hub.

It is also an indication of the vital role the Gulf could play in improving the health of the industry in the coming years.

Worldwide, air cargo has been hit as companies look to cut the cost of transporting goods and opt to use cheaper rail and sea routes.

The Middle East has not exactly been immune to this downturn. It might be growing, but air freight levels are still far lower than they were in 2007, when the region’s airlines recorded growth of 16.1 per cent in air freight.

The growth they are still managing to eke out is, in part, owed to the investments made by governments in their airline and airport cargo handling capacity.

As the region’s main air transport hub, Dubai is the best gauge of the health of the Middle East’s air cargo sector. Dubai International airport handled 1.8 million tonnes of freight last year, making it the fifth busiest cargo airport in the world.

Given these figures, it comes as no surprise that the International Air Transport Association is predicting that it is emerging markets such as the Gulf that will lead the global air freight industry out of its slump and into a new era of growth.