Load placement

Air transport – characteristics and loading of cargo

Air transport is not among the most popular means of transporting cargo. Due to its price, this mode is usually used for carrying special cargo that needs to be delivered quickly and safely from A to B.

According to IATA data, air freight demand fell by 25.8% in 2020 compared to 2019, which could be due to the pandemic shock. In 2021, this market has recovered significantly and has already surpassed 2019 levels. Perishables such as vegetables and fruit, but also fresh flowers account for 54% of the goods transported, statistics says. This is followed by 35% dangerous goods and 9% medicines.

Characteristics of air transport

Air freight transport is mainly characterised by short lead times, especially in comparison with other modes of transport. With this form, valuable and perishable goods can be transported safely. It also enables regulating the temperature, allowing the carriage of cargo with temperature control requirements.

In organising airfreight transport, the following methods are distinguished:
a. consolidation – i.e. putting multiple shipments from different recipients on one flight;
b. individual conditions (direct service) – allow goods to be placed in the luggage hold, but frequently come with size restrictions. For this flight, a direct flight to the chosen destination is selected;
c. charter flights – the most expensive option possible, as you hire an entire aircraft to carry your own cargo. What’s more, the flight needs to be paid in both directions.


Advantages and disadvantages of air transport

Advantages of air transport:

  • speed of movement;
  • one of the safer modes of transport, allowing the transport of luxury goods, for example;
  • easy tracking of shipments;
  • attractive option for landlocked countries.

Disadvantages of air transport:

  • high price of transport, particularly when compared with other transport methods;
  • highly dependent on prevailing weather conditions;
  • need to use a different mode of transport, which translates into additional lengthening of the process as well as possible handling problems;
  • air containers are not suitable for intermodal transport;
  • environmental damage.

Load units in air transport

This type of transport uses air cargo units, which are different from those used for road or sea transport. Due to the construction of the aircraft, most of the containers used have one or two sides bevelled. Pallets, on the other hand, are made of an aluminium plate with a mesh to protect the goods lying on it.

The size of pallets and containers varies depending on the type of aircraft. Air transport uses such units to completely fill the available space. Loading varies, depending on the types of aircraft, and can take place through a special door on one side of the fuselage, as well as the tail or the nose.

Air containers and pallets are labelled with the abbreviation ULD (Unit Load Devics). This designation consists of a three-letter prefix, a unique five- or four-number number and the ULD owner code. The specification of this designation is handled by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

How do you plan the loading of goods on pallets and in air containers?

First of all, it should be noted that not all goods can be transported by this mode of transport. Among other things, explosives, lithium batteries, flammable products and gases or precious metals are prohibited. In some cases, it is possible to obtain carrier approval for carriage, but usually the airlines provide detailed information and rules for cargo.

In air transport, due to price, among others, it is essential to maximise the use of available space. In this way, it is possible to accommodate more goods in a smaller space without incurring additional costs. Moreover, more tightly packed goods, additionally protected by polystyrene or sponge, will be more resistant to possible damage.

In air transport, goods are most often transshipped from another mode of transport, mainly from trailers delivering cargo to the airport. It is extremely important to organise this process properly so that loading is quick and easy. Air transport delays are very costly.

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