Focus on Airfreight

With many direct and indirect options, airfreight is by far the quickest way to ship goods internationally around the world. There are few locations that cannot be reached quickly and efficiently using its services. Many manufacturing companies rely on the efficiency and regularity of airfreight services to receive goods ‘just in time’ (JIT) and are willing to pay the premium cost. As such, large volumes of airfreight move in and out of the UK everyday and the amount of air cargo increased by 30% in the UK between 1997 and 2007. 

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures illustrate the growing volume of air cargo moved. Below are the top 11 UK airports for airfreight showing the volume (in metric tonnes) moved in 2010:

At the moment, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic the airfreight industry is suffering. With the reduced passenger flight numbers and the resulting reduced freight capacity, importers and exporters are feeling the effect worldwide.


Airfreight Service Options

There are different airfreight options depending on the service required. Keep in mind airfreight freight costs are principally based on the gross weight of the shipment so for very dense, heavy shipment it may not be economically viable!

For a small amount of freight the most affordable option is a consolidated freight or ‘consol’ option. Each shipment within a consol would travel under an individual house airway bill (HAWB) and be consolidated into one unit load device (ULD), which travels under one master airway bill (MAWB).  

An example of ULD’s being loaded onto a passenger plane as ‘belly freight’ can been seen below:

By Dtom – Own work, Public Domain

Consol shipments move at regular intervals (typically at the weekend). At times of high demand a mid-week consol shipment may be made available. Due to this fixed schedule, consol shipments may have a transit time of 5-7 days depending on when your shipment was loaded.

Larger shipments can travel on a ‘back-to-back’ or direct service. This will often travel on the next available flight, direct to the destination, traveling under one master airway bill. 

For extremely large or urgent shipments there is always the option of Charter flights. The company would need to book a suitable plane and pay in advance for a round trip. Payment is required in advance and cancellation fees are considerable. During the Covid-19 pandemic the UK government arranged several charter flights of PPE from Europe and Turkey to the UK. 

Prohibited and Restricted Items

Not all items are allowed to move via airfreight, some items are prohibited as they may compromise the safety of the plane and everyone on board. Some items are restricted as they may require import licences or have import quotas.

Prohibited items include:

  • Explosives
  • Compressed gases
  • Flammable liquids or solids
  • Chemicals and Biochemical compounds
  • Strong Magnets

All freight is scanned and checked before being cleared for loading, if any prohibited items are discovered the shipment will not be allowed to fly.

Restricted items include:

  • Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco
  • Meat and Dairy Products
  • Flowers or Seeds
  • Animals or Insects
  • Weapons
  • Wooden Items
  • Bone or Shell Items
  • Pornographic Material

Airfreight and the Environment

Airfreight has the highest negative impact on the environment over any other mode of transport. According to preliminary data compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in 2014, green house gas emissions from international flights increased by 22.7% between 2000 – 2007, then fell by 3.5% between 2007 – 2014. Newer more fuel efficient and less polluting planes are being phased into service but this takes time. Due to this many couriers offer a service, at an additional cost, to offset the environmental impact (principally the carbon emissions) of your shipment. Using this service as part of your Green Logistics system you can effectively move goods via airfreight in a carbon neutral way. 

Airfreight is and will remain an essential mode of transport for urgent goods. To compare airfreight to the other modes of transport see the comparison here

Published by A Kennedy

An award winning, UK based, International Logistics Manager for a multinational tool company. Over 25 years experience in international logistics and supply chain management. Elected ‘Chartered Status’ by the CILT and ‘Expert Status’ by the IoSCM.

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