Cargo shipments through Dubai dropped last month in lockstep with global traffic amid anticipation of weaker economic activity and a shift to cheaper transport options.
Global cargo demand fell 4.7 per cent last month compared with the same time a year ago, according to data released yesterday by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents more than 200 airlines.
While international passenger traffic rose 4.6 per cent last month compared with a year earlier, experts warn falling air-freight shipments are a key sign businesses fear troubled waters ahead.
"Cargo is the story of the month," said Tony Tyler, Iata's chief executive. "Air freight is among the first sectors to suffer when businesses' confidence declines."
Demand within the global cargo market has shrunk by almost 5 per cent since the middle of the year. That is significantly higher than the 1 per cent contraction seen in world trade volumes over the same time, Mr Tyler noted.
There are also signs emerging, locally, that more businesses may be bracing for a slowdown.
Yesterday, Dubai International Airport reported it handled 197, 841 tonnes of freight last month. That volume is down 2.5 per cent compared with October last year.
For the entire year thus far, the total amount in freight handled through Dubai International, the world's fourth-busiest airport, has dropped 1.8 per cent, to about 1.8 million tonnes.
The confidence of purchasing managers in the global manufacturing sector has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, Iata warns. This has caused some companies to switch to cheaper - and slower - forms of transport, such as ships instead of planes. Some airlines, in response, have cut their freighter fleets.
At the same time, most airlines are benefiting from a rise in passengers travelling internationally.
Carriers in the Middle East reported the strongest increase in passenger demand of all markets tracked globally, with growth up 7.7 per cent last month over October last year.
Travellers coming through Dubai International Airport, specifically, also continued to rise.
Traffic in the UAE was bolstered by the carrier flydubai, as it expanded routes into Russia, as well as increased flights from Emirates Airline to Los Angeles, New York and Houston.
Last month, more than 4.3 million passengers travelled through the Dubai airport, which was up 7.3 per cent from October last year.
"New routes, additional frequencies and extra capacity continue to drive passenger traffic growth at the Dubai hub," said Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, which oversees Dubai International Airport.