Middle East airlines are forecast to see the strongest growth in cargo volumes over the next four years, according to a new outlook published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
It said five of the 10 fastest growing countries will be in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, reflecting its growing importance in international air freight.
By 2016, the UAE will become the sixth biggest freight market in the world with 2.5 million tonnes, behind the United States, Germany, China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
The region's carriers will also see the third fastest growth in passenger numbers between 2012-2016, the industry authority said.
The Middle East is expected to see 6.6 percent annual passenger demand growth in the period, behind that forecast for Africa (6.8 percent) and Asia-Pacific (6.7 percent).
International freight demand in the Middle East will grow at 4.9 percent, the strongest growth among the regions, IATA added.
Globally, the IATA said it expects to see a total of some 3.6 billion passengers in 2016. That’s about 800 million more than the 2.8 billion passengers carried by airlines in 2011.
These figures show passenger numbers expanding by an average of 5.3 percent per annum between 2012 and 2016.
The 28.5 percent increase in passenger numbers over the forecast period will see 331 million new passengers on international services.
International freight volumes will grow at three percent per annum to total 34.5 million tonnes in 2016. That is 4.8 million more tonnes of air cargo than the 29.6 million tonnes carried in 2011.
"The emerging economies of Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East will see the strongest passenger growth. This will be led by routes within or connected to China, which are expected to account for 193 million of the 831 million new passengers over the forecast period," IATA said in the forecast report.
Through 2016, the United States will continue to be the largest single market for domestic passengers (710.2 million).
Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO, said: “Despite the current economic uncertainty, expected demand for connectivity remains strong. That’s good news for the global economy. Growing air transport links generate jobs and underpin economic growth in all economies. But exploiting these will require governments to recognise aviation’s value with policies that do not stifle innovation, tax regimes that do not punish success and investments to enable infrastructure to keep up with growth.”
By 2016, IATA said the top five countries for international travel measured by number of passengers will be the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and France.