Air Cargo Fees: What You Need to Know

Understanding air cargo fees is crucial for businesses aiming to optimize their supply chain operations and remain competitive. As a trusted partner in the industry, we believe that providing you with comprehensive insights into this complex subject is essential. In this article, we will explore deep into the world of air cargo fees, offering a detailed guide that will help you not only understand but also navigate the intricacies of these costs effectively.

air cargo fees

The Significance of Air Cargo in Global Trade

Goods are transported by air in the form of air cargo. It is a method of shipping goods that is faster and more expensive than other methods, such as ocean freight or ground transportation. The cost of air cargo is influenced by several factors, including the weight and volume of the shipment, the distance over which it is being shipped, the urgency of the shipment, and the time of year.

Understanding the Components of Air Cargo Fees

To achieve a comprehensive understanding of air cargo fees, it is imperative that these costs be broken down into their various components. The following sections will outline these components in detail:

A fuel surcharge (FSC) is a fee that carriers add to the base rate of a shipping charge to cover fuel costs. Carriers calculate the FSC as a percentage of the base rate, and this percentage can change in response to oil price fluctuations.

Its purpose is to shield carriers from fuel price volatility, which can vary significantly day to day and affect shipping costs. With the inclusion of a fuel surcharge, carriers can ensure cost recovery even when oil prices rise. Typically adjusted on a monthly or quarterly basis, the FSC is published in advance by carriers, allowing shippers to be informed about these charges before booking a shipment.

A Security Surcharge (SSC) is a fee that carriers add to the base rate of a shipping charge to cover the cost of additional security measures. The airport authority typically mandates the SSC, and it applies to all air cargo shipments.

Calculated as a percentage of the base rate, the specific percentage can vary by airport. Airports generally publish the SSC in advance, enabling shippers to be informed about these charges before booking a shipment. While the SSC is an essential expense for ensuring the safety of air cargo shipments, it can increase shipping costs, particularly for small businesses. To mitigate the impact of the SSC, shippers can take steps like securely packing their shipments to reduce tampering risk, partnering with freight forwarders to negotiate lower airline rates and coordinate transportation, and obtaining shipment insurance to safeguard against loss or damage, regardless of the SSC.

A Container Service Charge (CSC) The airport terminal operator charges a Container Service Charge (CSC) for handling and storing containers. They typically assess the CSC on a per-day basis, with the rate varying based on the container’s size and type.

The CSC serves the purpose of covering the terminal operator’s costs associated with container handling and storage. These costs encompass:

  • Labor expenses for loading and unloading containers
  • Costs for providing storage space for containers
  • Expenditures for ensuring security for containers
  • Maintenance costs for terminal equipment

The CSC is a necessary cost when air shipping goods, but it can raise overall shipping expenses, which can be especially burdensome for small businesses. To lessen the impact of the CSC, shippers can consider these strategies:

  1. Off-Season Shipping: Opt for shipping during off-peak periods when CSC rates tend to be lower due to decreased demand for air freight.
  2. Efficient Packing: Efficiently pack shipments to minimize the space they occupy in the terminal, reducing CSC charges.
  3. Carrier Selection: Choose carriers that offer lower CSC rates, if available and feasible.
  4. Freight Forwarders: Engage freight forwarders to help negotiate favorable rates with airlines and handle logistics for more cost-effective shipping.
  5. Insurance: Consider insuring shipments to protect against loss or damage, regardless of CSC expenses.

Customs Clearance fees are payments made to the customs authorities of a specific country to streamline the importation of goods. These fees are usually assessed as a percentage of the declared value of the goods, and the precise rate can fluctuate depending on the particular country’s regulations and policies.

The main objective of customs clearance fees is to offset the expenses accrued by the customs department while scrutinizing and approving goods for entry into the country. These costs include:

  • Labor Costs for Goods Inspection: Expenses associated with the personnel involved in inspecting the goods.
  • Storage Costs for Goods: Expenditures for providing storage facilities for the goods while they are in the customs process.
  • Security Costs for Goods: The costs associated with ensuring the security of the goods during the customs clearance process.
  • Costs of Issuing Import Permits: Administrative expenses related to issuing the necessary import permits.

Typically, it’s the responsibility of the importer of the goods to pay the customs clearance fees. However, the exact party liable for these fees can vary depending on the specific regulations of each country.

  1. Declare Accurate Goods Value: Importers should truthfully declare the value of the goods to the customs department. Underreporting the value can lead to penalties and fines.
  2. Correctly Categorize Goods: Importers should accurately categorize their goods, as the correct categorization determines the applicable customs duties and taxes.
  3. Utilize Customs Brokers: Customs brokers can assist importers in navigating the customs clearance process efficiently, potentially reducing fees and ensuring compliance with regulations.

Associated Trucking Fees When shipping goods, various fees apply, including Freight Charges based on factors like distance and cargo weight. Fuel Surcharges cover fuel costs and fluctuate with oil prices, while additional Surcharges may apply to specific shipments like those overweight or oversized. Customs Duties and Taxes depend on shipment value, and Insurance offers optional protection. Loading and Unloading Fees handle cargo handling, Terminal Handling Fees relate to airport facilities, Security Fees cover security measures, and Documentation Fees involve paperwork. These fees vary based on shipment details, helping shippers understand their overall transportation costs.

An Airport Screening Fee is a charge imposed by an airport to offset the expenses associated with screening shipments for potentially dangerous, hazardous, or prohibited items. This fee is typically assessed per shipment, and the specific rate may vary from one airport to another.

The primary purpose of the airport screening fee is to cover the airport’s costs related to the screening process. These costs encompass:

  • Labor Costs for Screening Shipments: Expenses associated with personnel engaged in the screening of shipments.
  • Equipment Costs for Screening Shipments: Expenditures for providing and maintaining the necessary screening equipment.
  • Facility Maintenance Costs for Screening: The expenses related to the upkeep of screening facilities.

The party responsible for paying the airport screening fee usually falls on the shipper or consignee of the shipment. However, the precise party liable for this fee can differ based on the specific terms outlined in the shipping contract.

Document Creation Fee: This fee covers the creation of essential documents such as the bill of lading and delivery orders, often necessary for export or import processes.

Transport Document Amendment Fee (AMF): In cases where changes to consignor details or cargo information are needed, the air freight company may impose an AMF to accommodate these modifications.

Gateway Transfer Fee: If a customer wishes to transfer a shipment to a third party, like an agent, broker, or a new consignee, a gateway transfer fee may be applied.

Cargo Insurance: Sellers or consignors typically pay for cargo insurance to protect shipments against loss, damage, or theft during transit.

A messenger fee refers to a payment remitted to a courier service for conveying documents from an airport to diverse supply chain associates, including brokers or transportation providers. Generally, this fee is calculated per shipment and fluctuates depending on variables like distance, document weight, and the urgency of delivery. The primary objective of the messenger fee is to offset the expenses accrued by the courier service during the document delivery process.

Strategies to Optimize Air Cargo Fees

Let’s explore strategies to optimize and minimize these costs effectively:

1. Carrier Selection

Choosing an air cargo carrier:

  1. Get quotes from multiple carriers. This will help you to ensure that you are getting the best possible rate.
  2. Read online reviews. This can give you an idea of the carrier’s reputation and customer service.
  3. Ask for recommendations from other businesses. This can be a great way to find a reliable and efficient carrier.
  4. Consider the carrier’s network. This will help to ensure that your shipments can be delivered on time and without delays.
  5. Make sure the carrier has a good track record of on-time delivery and damage-free shipments.
  6. Choose a carrier that is committed to sustainability.

2. Route Planning

Effective route planning can have a substantial impact on air cargo fees. Consider exploring routes with shorter transit times to lower your overall costs.

3. Consolidation and Packaging

Combining shipments and optimizing packaging are two strategies for reducing freight charges and efficiently utilizing cargo space. Consolidating shipments involves merging multiple shipments into a single larger one, often with the assistance of a freight forwarder or consolidator. This approach allows you to benefit from volume discounts and decreases the volume of individual shipments requiring handling.

4. Stay Informed

Regularly monitor industry trends, fuel prices, and surcharge updates to make informed decisions and adapt your logistics strategy accordingly.


Air cargo fees can be intricate, influenced by various factors. Shippers should thoroughly evaluate these factors when making shipping decisions to manage air cargo costs effectively. Understanding the diverse air cargo fees and strategies for minimizing them can lead to cost savings in shipping.

Here are additional considerations regarding air cargo fees:

  • Weight and Volume: The weight and size of the shipment significantly impact the base rate. Heavier and bulkier shipments incur higher base rates.
  • Distance: The distance the shipment needs to travel also influences the base rate, with longer distances incurring higher costs.
  • Urgency: The urgency of delivery affects the base rate; expedited shipments come with higher charges.
  • Seasonal Variation: Air cargo rates tend to rise during peak shipping seasons like the holidays.
  • Special Requirements: Certain shipments, such as hazardous materials or those needing special handling, may incur additional fees.

Obtaining quotes from multiple airlines is essential before selecting an air cargo service to ensure the best possible rates. Shippers should also be well-informed about potential air cargo fees that might apply to their specific shipments. This knowledge empowers shippers to make informed decisions and save on air cargo shipping expenses.