Air Freight

Plane flying over shipping container piles

Air freight is the shipment of goods via an air carrier such as a cargo or charter plane. It is typically used to transport time-sensitive goods and is one of the fastest modes of shipment.

  • Air freight is the transportation of cargo via an aircraft.
  • Air freight cargo can be categorized into general and special cargo.
  • Air freight cost is calculated using chargeable weight – the greater of these:
    • Actual weight of cargo
    • Volumetric weight (in kg) = Length x width x height (in cm) / 6000

    Types of Cargo Transported By Air

    Air freight cargo can be categorized as either general or special cargo. Their categorization will affect how the cargo is handled, the shipping documentations required and the planes they will be transported by.

    • General cargo

    General cargo is ordinary freight that does not require special handling during shipment. Some examples include retail and consumer goods such as:

    • Clothing
    • Office supplies
    • Sports equipment
    • Household items

    These goods may be transported via any plane like commercial, cargo or charter planes

    • Special cargo

    Special cargo is freight that requires special handling and/or documentation when being transported, such as:

    • Certain types of dangerous goods
    • Temperature-sensitive goods
    • Perishable goods
    • High-value goods
    • Live animals
    • Human remains

    They are usually transported by charter or cargo planes only. The latter is typically filled with consolidated freight that may be on a transshipment route.

    How Much Does Air Freight Cost?

    Air freight is usually charged per kilogram (kg), taking either the actual or volumetric weight of the cargo, whichever is greater. This is referred to as the chargeable weight.

    • Actual weight 

    Also known as gross weight, this is the total weight of cargo (in kg) measured on a weighing scale.

    • Volumetric weight

    This is the volume of cargo in cubic centimeters (cm) with a density ratio applied to it. For air freight, carriers usually use a ratio of 1:6. The formula is:

    Length x width x height (in cm) / 6,000 = volumetric weight (in kg)

    How do I get the most affordable rates for air freight?
    Different air carriers may have different rates when calculating the cost of freight. Engaging a freight forwarder like M&P International Freights may give you access to their large network of partners offering the best rates.

    Example of Calculating Air Freight

    For example, you are engaging the services of air carrier company XYZ that charges $5 per kg to transport 3 boxes of cargo with the following measurements:

    • Each box weighs 15kg
    • Each box is 60cm by 40cm by 40cm in size

    Actual weight = 15kg x 3 boxes = 45kg
    Volumetric weight =  (60cm x 40cm x 40cm) x 3 boxes / 6000* = 48kg

    In this scenario, the volumetric weight is greater than the actual weight. The chargeable weight would thus be 48kg.

    Cost of air freight = 48kg x $5 = $240

    You would thus have to pay $240 to ship your packages via air carrier XYZ.

    *Note that this divisor may differ for the carrier that you engage.

    Air Freight vs Sea Freight

    Sea freight is the method of shipping goods via sea vessel. These goods are typically packed into shipping containers before being loaded onto a ship.

    Sea and air freight are the 2 most common methods of transporting cargo, especially for international shipments. Some factors to consider when choosing between either mode include:

    • Speed

    Air freight is typically known to be the faster shipment method as compared to sea freight. As a rough estimate, air shipments usually take a few days or weeks to complete, while sea transportation may take several weeks or months.

    Here are some factors that may affect the speed of shipments:

    • Distance
    • Route
    • Season and weather conditions
    • Delays due to unforeseen circumstances
    • Flexibility during schedule changes

    Air freight services offer greater flexibility than sea carriers when facing schedule changes. This is because there are usually multiple flights traveling between major cities each day, while sea vessels typically leave weekly.

    • Cost

    Sea freight service rates are usually much lower than air freight rates. This is especially true for large quantities of cargo due to the way air freight is calculated. However, air shipments may be cheaper in lower quantities as sea freight rates are subject to LCL shipment prices.

    • Cargo restrictions

    Shipments via air have weight and dimension restrictions due to the size and weight limitations onboard planes. Ocean vessels generally have more space for heavier, bulkier cargo.

    Start learning about freight forwarding.
    Get free freight forwarding tips and resources delivered directly to your inbox.
    No charge. Unsubscribe everytime.