The Middle East air cargo market continues to power ahead, but the recovery in global freight rates that began towards the end of last year has stalled, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
Figures for March showed air freight markets weakened with global freight tonne kilometres (FTKs) down 2.3 per cent at just under 15 billion FTKs for the month compared with March 2012, and well below the 16-billion-plus FTKs last reached in the first quarter of 2010.
However, the Middle East and Africa airlines' cargo traffic grew 10.5 per cent.
"They are the only region showing an expansion," said Iata. "It is a continuation of their remarkable start to 2013.
"The region has grown 12.4 per cent faster for the year to date compared with the same period last year. In March, capacity was up 9.1 per cent."
Asia-Pacific carriers - the largest players in air freight with 38.5 per cent of the global market - experienced a 3.3 per cent fall in FTKs compared to the previous year, with the region showing the greatest weakness in terms of actual freight volumes, said Iata.
The United States and Europe, however, had larger percentage falls in FTKs down 5.2 per cent and 4 per cent respectively, but on a smaller market share.
"Global air freight volumes are now only 1.5 per cent above the October 2012 low point, down from the 3.5 per cent rise that had been reached in January," said Tony Tyler, Iata's director general and chief executive.
"The March decline in air cargo is most likely a temporary stall. The fundamentals for a sustained improvement in air cargo volumes are in place. Business confidence continues to signal forthcoming expansion, and the solid increase in new export orders seen in 2013 should boost air freight in the coming months.
"Much of the current weakness is coming from Asia-Pacific airlines. While the region is economically strong, the economies of its trading partners are not. The euro zone is showing renewed weakness and the negative impact of US budget cuts is yet to be fully measured."
Iata concluded that after adjusting for seasonal factors, the improving trend in the fourth quarter of 2012 had been reversed.