Emirates Airline has begun dedicated cargo services to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the airfield run by the US Army, the Dubai carrier said yesterday.
The service signals the entry of Emirates, the Middle East's largest freighter airline, into the lucrative air cargo market for the US military and reconstruction effort - one of the largest sources of demand for the region.
In September, the airline began a weekly flight into Bagram using a Boeing 747-400 freighter on behalf of Coyne Airways, a major sub-contractor to the US military.
"Emirates and Coyne Airways have entered into a capacity purchase agreement, and this flight into Bagram is operated on behalf of Coyne," according to a statement released by Coyne.
"It is important to note that Coyne controls the capacity of the flight on the Dubai-to-Bagram sector."
An Emirates spokesman said it was not using its own aircraft for the services.
"We charter aircraft to a customer that carries cargo to Bagram," the spokesman said. "Our customer is not the US military."
The US military's presence in Afghanistan has created huge requirements for transporting material by land, air and sea into the land-locked country.
UAE-based Midex Airlines, a dedicated cargo airline, said it carries cargo to Afghanistan from the UAE and Bahrain daily, representing 60 per cent of its business for the MENA region.
Salim KP, the director of sales at Midex Airlines, said the business was one of the most lucrative for private air operators because of the rates and terms they were able to charge.
The participation from private industry mirrors the co-operation taking place between the US and UAE governments.
The UAE military has been in Afghanistan in a peacekeeping capacity since 2007. In addition, Dubai's main deepwater port in Jebel Ali is one of the most important international docking stations for the US Navy.
Analysts were quick to point out that Emirates was carrying "non-lethal" cargo such as food, medicine, clothing and equipment, and not arms.
"The UAE is very strict on allowing non-lethal aid only to be carried as cargo," said Theodore Karasik, the director for research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Affairs in Dubai.
Mr Karasik noted that dozens of air operators had been banned from flying in and out of the UAE because of violations to this rule.
Emirates SkyCargo operates a fleet of dedicated freighters including 747s, which can carry more than 100 tonnes of cargo.