Types of Air Cargo

Other · 5 min read · Jan 12, 2023
types of air cargo

Air transport is one of the most reliable ways of shipping goods from one place to another. Air freight is distinguished by its fast and secure delivery and particularly by the exceptionally large shipments that it carries. So, naturally, it is the best choice for transporting urgent and extremely valuable goods.

Although passenger aircraft often carries cargo, the planes specifically designed for air freight service complete this task much more efficiently. They have high loading capacity due to the wider fuselage, a great stability during landing because of the greater number of wheels. Cargo aircraft are designed for efficient loading and unloading through numerous large doors.

Air transport offers the shipping of almost anything as long as it does not pose a threat to aircraft safety. However, for shipments to be safely transported, specific rules of handling are implemented which distinguish different types of air cargo.

Below is an overview of the two main types of cargo – General and Special which can be transported through air shipment.

General cargo

The general air cargo group refers to the simplest of objects that do not require specific precautions or special handling. For instance, clothing items, books or any other retail and consumer products are transported this way. High value goods such as jewelry, electronics (without batteries) and pharmaceuticals are also considered general cargo.

Transit time for general cargo can be longer due to the items not having any time sensitive requirements.

A cargo plane on a tarmac filled with shipments

Special cargo

Special cargo is the more complicated air shipment which denotes goods that have specific transportation requirements. This category can include quite simple items which due to their unusual dimensions, specific weight or value have to be considered special cargo.

But, most importantly, the category encompasses goods that are special due to their nature. The most common of these are dangerous goods, perishable goods, time and temperature sensitive products and live animals. These types of cargo have particular packaging, labelling and documentation requirements. Each sub-category of special cargo has particular standards.

Dangerous goods

The dangerous goods category encompasses any substance or material that is capable of posing risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce. Even objects that might seem harmless can pose a threat to the aircraft.

For instance, a can of whipped cream could be considered as a dangerous item because it is packed with aerosol. When flying, the vibrations or pressure variations can cause such a can to leak and exude fumes. To reduce the risk of such an event proper identification of a dangerous item is required.

Dangerous goods which pose risks without even being transported are called hazardous materials. Air freight services are used even for such materials because all that matters is meticulous labelling and handling. Even the most hazardous materials can be shipped safely.

Dangerous goods are divided into different types based on their nature, for example, there are flammable, poisonous, radioactive and even explosive goods. Overall, there are 9 types, and FAA has prepared extensive descriptions for each one of them. Each type has its own handling requirements according to the IATA dangerous goods regulations.

Although some dangerous goods can be transported in passenger aircraft, most of them, in particular the most risk-posing, are shipped in cargo-only aircraft.

A cargo warehouse, types of air cargo.

Aeroclass course on dangerous goods

If you want to get a better idea how to transport air cargo that is considered dangerous goods, Aeroclass offers an excellent entry-level explanatory video course by a dangerous goods expert Tumas Navickas.

The instructor will walk you through the most essential information you need to know about dangerous goods on an aircraft, how to pack it and what documentation is needed. Take a sneak peek into the course:

Temperature controlled goods

The special cargo type of temperature controlled goods is one of the most important services that air freight provides. Temperature control is necessary for such items as pharmaceuticals, organs, blood supplies. These are quite literally life or death deciding objects.

A topical example of such goods are the Covid-19 vaccines, which need to be transported all over the world in a temperature controlled environment in order to maintain their effectiveness.

Covid-19 vaccines, types of air cargo.

Perishable goods

Air cargo services are the best option for transporting perishable goods due to its fast delivery rate. With the high demand of fresh food rising all over the world, transporting perishable items has become an essential air cargo service. Perishable goods include anything from fruits and vegetables to dairy products, meat and even flowers.

These products that are liable to spoilage need to be packaged and handled with care. The existing temperature control within aircraft and the meticulously followed timing restrictions in the aviation industry make the shipping of perishable cargo by plane the most effective option.

Crates filled with various fruits, types of air cargo.

Live animals

Even animals can be transported by aircraft. This service is usually provided for pets. Owners who want to travel with their pets or are relocating to a new country have the opportunity to fly together with their companions.

Although pets are treated like cargo and put in a cargo hold, it is ensured that their flight is comfortable. They are placed in suitable crates and are in a well-ventilated area.

Kitten in a carrier box.

The cost of air cargo transport

Air freight is one of the more expensive means of shipping goods. Its defining characteristics of speed, flexibility, security and loading capacity denote the highest quality service which without a doubt comes with considerable cost.

The pricing of a specific shipment depends on three main factors. The first factor is shipment type, the larger or heavier it is the more expensive it gets to transport it. The second aspect is the destination, whether the cargo is intended to reach a far-away international airport or a local, goods-only airport has an effect on the price. Finally, the speed with which a shipment is supposed to reach its destination is calculated into the cost.

Since air transport deals with vast amounts of large, far-reaching and timing-sensitive cargo, the industry generates enormous net worth. The global air cargo market is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars.

Calculator next to a sheet of cost calculations

Additional information about air freight

The air cargo industry has many more different facets than just the types of cargo it carries. Being the integral part of the global supply chain, it is a sector worth exploring.

Aeroclass offers a unique opportunity of learning more about air cargo from an industry professional James Wyatt. Wyatt’s introductory course to air freight offers the essential information about the part it takes up in global economy and its internal mechanisms.

Another course presented by Céline Hourcade, an aviation industry expert, deals with the fundamentals of air transport. The instructor teaches essential sector terminology, prevailing business models, the main challenges and trends affecting the industry and much more.

Closing remarks

One of the most integral parts of the global supply chain – air transport, is known for its meticulous handling of cargo. The system separating cargo into general and special categories works to efficiently and safely transport particular goods.

Even the most dangerous or hazardous items are shipped by aircraft securely, temperature- and time-sensitive objects are delivered without losing their essential properties.

Air cargo affects the daily lives of everyone around the world more than we can imagine. Let’s not take for granted the incredibly important service air freight provides to all of us.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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