A Basic Guide for Air Freight Transportation

Blog Articles

What is Air Freight?

Air freight is one of the big three cargo transportation methods – air, ocean and road – that are used for international shipping and global trade. Air freight, in particular, refers to any shipments that are transported on a charter or commercial air carrier. Most companies will attest that air freight is the best mode of transportation for a variety of valuable cargo.

Usually, importers and exporters will utilise a freight forwarding or logistics company to secure the necessary services to transport their goods. Whether you are an individual buyer, nationwide distributor or an exporter of local products, freight forwarders are designed to help make the shipping process as safe and simple as possible.

Whatever freight mode you choose, a freight forwarder will help manage all of the logistics associated with organising freight services. The reach, reliability, accessibility and speed of air freight transportation have made it the first choice for securely transporting small or bulk cargo shipments. Air carriers will move shipments daily and on a variety of different planes. Air freight gives buyers and sellers the ability to trade anywhere in the world.

Is there a difference between air freight and air cargo?

The short answer is no. Air freight and air cargo are used interchangeably to describe the process of shipping goods via air carriers. Air cargo is sometimes used to describe shipments that are transported on domestic or international commercial flights. In addition, air freight can refer to companies that have access to their own air carriers that are dedicated transportation planes. However, this is an over-complication of what are, essentially, terms describing the same service.

The fastest mode of transport

As our global trade networks continue to expand and develop, we are able to transport goods to and from anywhere in the world. However, global accessibility is not all that has helped air freight become the top mode of transport. The number of air carriers transporting cargo has increased exponentially, with thousands of shipments being moved every day.

Even more impressive is the incredible speed and convenience that air freight offers. Time-sensitive goods can be shipped quickly and efficiently to anywhere in the world. Fresh produce, perishables, medicines and other time-sensitive cargo can be transported in hours and climate-controlled the whole way. There is no question that air freight is the fastest mode of transport for international shipments.

How Does Air Freight Work?

Air freight allows anything to be shipped internationally. From smaller shipments, such as mail and individual products, to larger shipments, such as appliances or bulk products, air cargo can deliver a wide range of shipment types with consistent speed and reliability. There are three types of air carriers used to manage varying load capacities and freight requirements, these are: passenger airliners, cargo-only planes and supercargo planes for heavy loads and equipment.

Freight forwarding and logistics companies are an essential part of this global shipping network. They have connections, experience and capabilities that are built up over years of transporting goods around the world for individuals and businesses. Freight forwarders help make the booking of carrier space, packaging of cargo and tracking your goods a whole lot easier. In particular, they will have extensive knowledge of which air freight companies are best for your shipping needs.

The process

The procedure is fairly straightforward and direct. Your chosen logistics operator will book space on an air carrier, help you package your goods safely and secure any warehousing needed. They will organise local delivery of your shipment to the airport and to its final destination on the other side. Throughout all of this, your freight forwarder will monitor the loading and unloading of your shipment to ensure it arrives on time, in the right place and in the same condition.

How Is Air Freight Calculated?

The price of air cargo will depend on a variety of factors. The type of goods or shipments, type of air carrier, size of the cargo, special transport requirements and chargeable weight of the cargo will help determine the overall price. The chargeable weight is used more often than just size as a result of some shipments being large and light and other being small and heavy.

The chargeable weight is determined by the gross or volumetric weight of your cargo. Large shipments that take up a lot of space or large shipments that are very heavy will increase the cost of transporting your cargo. The complex and multifaceted nature of air freight has resulted in a pricing system that is flexible and accountable to the growth and evolution of our global shipping needs.

Other factors that could impact your air freight costs are:

Financial conditions

The economic conditions of your country or the country you are trading with can have a significant impact on the costs of your air freight. Financial conditions will directly and indirectly affect the price of import and exporting goods. Poor economic conditions may make it more expensive to reach global or remote locations and a thriving economy may have more access, more competition and lower international shipping prices as a result.

Social and political factors

Beyond the international trade regulations and local customs clearance agencies, the social and political conditions in a region will have an important role to play in air freight pricing. Factors like a pandemic, war, recession, labour strikes, political unrest and poverty can lower the demand for air freight services. These factors will make it more costly for air freight companies to operate in that area.

Fuel prices and other working costs

The price of fuel is the most significant working cost for any air freight transporter. For example, if fuel prices are expected to stay low, it will reduce the working expenses for air freight companies in that area. If fuel prices are expected to rise, it will drive up the cost of their transportation services. Other factors that impact working costs are: taxes, landing charges, security, customs clearance processes, environmental issues and more.


Air freight transportation is a reliable and effective means of shipping time-sensitive, fragile, climate-controlled, bulk or lightweight goods to anywhere on earth. Individuals, small businesses and large corporations are all able to benefit from this fast and convenient transportation mode. Not to mention, air traffic and airport security measures help make this the most secure way to ship your valuable cargo.

M6T are an established and trusted freight forwarding partner for many South African businesses. We have a global network that spans across the international shipping industry and helps us provide world-class freight forwarding services to our clients. Contact M6T at our Johannesburg or Durban branch today for all of your freight forwarding and logistics needs.