The Ultimate Guide to Air Cargo Freight

Air cargo freight, a vital component of the global supply chain, expedites the movement of goods across vast distances with a multitude of features that cater to diverse business needs. 

Understanding Air Cargo features, along with the associated costs and considerations, is necessary for businesses involved in international trade.

This expedited service is ideal for time-sensitive inventory shipments, perishable goods, or situations where a just-in-time inventory model is crucial.

The Ultimate Guide to Air Cargo Freight

What You Need to Know About Air Cargo Freight Services

Air cargo freight services combine the transportation of goods by air, offering businesses a faster alternative to traditional sea freight. 

Air freight cargo is the most expeditious model of international transportation. It is generally more expensive than sear freight due to the higher operating costs associated with air travel. 

Aircraft have limitations on weight and volume compared to cargo ships. However, advancements in aircraft development and design are continuously increasing air cargo capacity. 

Air cargo transportation adheres to strict security protocols, ensuring the safe and secure movement of your goods.

What Are the Types of Air Freight Services?

The air freight cargo industry offers a diverse range of services to cater to the specific needs of your business and the type of goods you’re shipping. 

Air Express

Prioritizes speed above all else, offering the fastest possible delivery times for urgent shipments. 

Air express uses dedicated aircrafts that fly on direct routes, minimizing layovers and expediting the transportation process. This service is ideal for highly-time-sensitive cargo, such as critical medical supplies, vital replacement parts for machinery, or perishable goods with limited shelf life. 

However, due to the premium placed on speed and dedicated sources, air express typically commands the highest price point among air cargo services.

Air Freight

Provides a balance between speed and cost, making it a suitable option for a broader range of cargo types. 

Air freight services offer various tiers with different delivery timelines and pricing structures. 

Standard air freight offers cost-effective transportation with longer transit times compared to air express. 

Expedited air freight bridges the gap, offering faster delivery times at a more affordable price point than air express. Choosing the most appropriate air freight service level depends on your specific needs. 

For instance, if your cargo is not time-sensitive but requires faster delivery than standard ocean freight, expedited air freight might be the best solution. 

Specialized Air Cargo Services

These services ensure the safe and secure transportation of unique or delicate goods.

Strict regulations and specialized handling procedures are required for transporting live animals by air. Air cargo providers with expertise in animal transportation ensure the comfort, safety, and well-being of live animals throughout the journey. 

Maintaining optimal temperature and humidity is necessary for transporting perishable goods like fruits, vegetables, and pharmaceuticals. Temperature-controlled air cargo services use specialized containers and environmentally controlled aircraft compartments to ensure the freshness and integrity of perishable items during transport. 

High-value goods such as jewelry, artwork, or precious metals require heightened security measures. Air cargo providers offering specialized valuable cargo services implement stringent security protocols, including secure handling procedures, real-time tracking, and armed escorts to minimize the risk of theft or loss. 

The transportation of hazardous materials by air is strictly regulated, as mentioned above. Air cargo providers with expertise in dangerous goods make sure compliance with all safety regulations and use specialized packaging and handling procedures to ensure the safe transport of these materials. 

What Is Air DDP and How Does It Work?

Air DDP is where the seller assumes responsibility for all transportation costs, customs clearance fees, and duties associated with delivering the goods to the buyer’s designated location. 

This simplifies the process for the buyer but may be more expensive for the seller. 

“A common misconception is that DDP and express air freight are interchangeable terms. While both can expedite the delivery process, they differ in who is responsible for customs clearance and associated fees. DDP services ensure the seller handles all transportation costs, including customers clearance and duties, until the goods reach the buyer’s designated location. In contrast, express air freight focuses solely on the expedited transportation aspect.” Says CEO of Forceget, Burak Yolga. 

Challenges Sellers Might Face with Air DDP

While DDP air shipping offers convenience for buyers, sellers should be aware of the potential challenges associated with this service. 

The most significant challenge for sellers with DDP is the upfront payment of all customs clearance fees and duties. 

This can significantly impact cash flow, especially for large shipments or those with unpredictable customs charges. Sellers must factor in estimated duties and taxes based on the declared value of the goods. 

Accurately predicting customs charges can be a complex task due to factors such as commodity classification, fluctuations in customs regulations, and occasional discrepancies in customs valuations can lead to unexpected costs. 

Sellers who consistently underestimate customs charges may see their profit margins erode, while overestimating these charges can make their offerings less competitive in the marketplace. 

By opting for DDP, the seller’s broker handles the clearance procedures on behalf of the seller, potentially leading to delays if unforeseen issues arise during clearance. 

International transactions are subject to currency fluctuations, which can impact the profitability of air DDP shipping. 

If the exchange rate between the seller’s currency and the destination country’s currency weakens after the sale is finalized but before the customs charges are paid, the seller may lead to additional costs to cover the difference. 

What You Need to Know About Air DDU Services

DDU Air Freight or Delivered duty unpaid is where the seller is responsible for delivering the goods to the buyer’s designated location, but the buyer is responsible for all customs clearance fees and duties upon arrival. 

This option can be more cost-effective for the seller but requires the buyer to navigate customs procedures. 

Why Is Air Express Expensive?

The high cost of air express freight stems from several factors that contribute to the premium service it provides: 

Expedited air service prioritizes speed above all else. Dedicated aircraft are used, flying on direct routes with minimal layovers. This requires meticulous planning, coordination with airports and ground handling crews, and often involves flying cargo-only aircraft that are not filled to capacity with passenger baggage or other commercial cargo. 

Stricter security measures are implemented for air express shipments, which may involve additional screening procedures, special handling protocols, and even armed escorts for high-value goods.

Air express is a high-demand creates a situation of limited capacity, where the available space on air express flights is often short in supply.

Certain types of cargo, such as perishables or live animals, require specialized handling procedures and temperature controlled environments during air transport. 

Some air express providers offer guaranteed delivery timelines with money-back guarantees if those timelines are not met. These guarantees provide peace of mind for shippers with time-critical cargo, but they come at a cost. 

How to Calculate the Volumetric Weight of Air Express

When shipping air cargo charges are often based on either the actual weight of your shipment (gross weight) or its volumetric weight, which is higher. 

This ensures fair pricing for both the shipper and the carrier, as bulky, lightweight items can still occupy a significant amount of space on an aircraft. 

  1. Measure the dimensions of your shipment: Length, width, and height in centimeters (or inches, but centimeters are the industry standard). 
  2. Multiply the length x width x height: This will give you the total volume of your shipment in cubic centimeters (or cubic inches). 
  3. Divide the total volume by the dimensional factor: The dimensional factor is a number provided by your air express carrier (or any air freight carrier). This factor varies depending on the carrier and the specific service you choose, so it’s important to obtain the correct dimensional factor from your chosen carrier. 
  4. Compare the volumetric weight to the actual weight: The higher of these two values will be used to determine your air freight charges

The Difference Between Air DDP and DHL Service

FeatureAir DDPDHL Service
TypeService levelService provider
DescriptionDefines who is responsible for costs and customs clearanceCompany offering logistics services, including DDP
AnalogySpecific option on a menuRestaurant offering that option on their menu, along with many other dishes
Range of ServicesSingular service level focused on seller responsibility for costs and dutiesVariety of air freight options including standard, expedited, and specialized services
Choice of ProvidersMultiple freight forwarders and logistics providersDHL is one provider among many
Focus and ExpertiseFreight forwarders may specialize in customs clearance and regulationsDHL’s core competency may lie in other areas of logistics
Air DDP vs DHL Service

“Customs authorities in the destination country assess import duties and taxes based on the declared value of the goods themselves. While some countries may have thresholds for duty exemptions on low-value shipments, others may have to be contacted to best consult based on applicable tax rates for the specific shipment.”

Transit Times, Invoice and Duty Payments with Air Freight Services

Transit times for air freight vary depending on several factors, including: 

Origin and Destination: the distance between the origin and destination airports significantly impacts delivery timelines. Flights between major international hubs tend to have faster transit times. 

Service Level: As mentioned previously, air express offers the fastest delivery times, followed by expedited air freight and then standard air freight. Choosing a faster service level will result in shorter transit times but at a higher cost. 

Customs Clearance: The efficiency of customs clearance procedures at the destination airport can impact overall transit times. Unforeseen delays during customs clearance can extend the delivery timeframe. 

Flight Schedules: The availability of direct flights versus flights with layovers can affect transit times. Direct flights are generally faster, while flights with connections may take longer depending on the layover duration. 

Invoice and Duty Payment

The way invoices are issued and duty payments are handled depends on the chosen service level (e.g., DDP vs. DDU) and the specific agreements between the shipper, freight forwarder, and the buyer. 

DDP: The seller will receive an invoice from the freight forwarder that encompasses the entire cost of delivering the goods to the buyer’s location. The buyer typically won’t receive a separate invoice for customs duties. 

DDU: The seller’s invoice will reflect the transportation costs only. The buyer will receive a separate invoice from customs authorities upon arrival of the shipment. 

What No One Talks About When You Work with a Freight Forwarder from China

Communication and business practices can differ significantly between Western cultures and China. Being mindful of these differences can foster better working relationships and avoid misunderstandings. 

While upfront quotes from Chinese freight forwarders may seem attractive, there can sometimes be hidden costs that aren’t explicitly mentioned. These could include fees for documentation processing, terminal handling charges at destination airports, or additional customs clearance expenses. 

Real-time shipment tracking capabilities offered by some Western freight forwarders may not be as readily available when working with some Chinese counterparts, which is why proactive communication and clear expectations are essential. 

Language barriers can pose challenges during communication. Having a basic understanding of common shipping terminology in Mandarin or working with a freight forwarder that offers bilingual communication can help mitigate these challenges.