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11 min read  | Benchmarking

Air Freight: A Simple Definition

Wenwen Zhang  | October 10, 2022

Global importers and exporters employ air freight when they need to deliver goods fast and reliably. Even though 90% of all freight is transported by ocean, air cargo connects the world more quickly, reducing the time required for freight from China to the US from 20 to 3 days. 

However, it is important to note that Air express/courier and air freight are two different things. 

Air express/courier is frequently managed by a single organization (such as UPS, FedEx or DHL) that oversees the entire shipment lifecycle and can deliver packages from door to door in less than five days. Express freight shipments are often smaller than air freight (less than one cubic meter and 200 kg). Air freight cargo can be considerably bigger and travel on many carriers.  

During a regular season, the cost of sending freight internationally by air can range from 1€ to 6€ per kilogram, depending on the item you're sending and the available space.

However, prices have increased significantly since February 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic due to constrained air cargo capacity, significant interruptions in ocean freight and rising consumer demand. The current price range for air cargo is 2–10€ per kilogram (as of October 10, 2022). Read about the latest trends in the air freight market here. 

Costs and rates for air freight shipping 

Weight and volume are crucial elements in air freight shipping. Depending on which is more expensive, airlines will either charge by volumetric weight (also known as dimensional weight) or actual weight. 

A shipment’s volumetric weight is calculated by multiplying the item's cubic meter volume by a dim factor, which is agreed upon with your service provider. The standard dim factor for air freight is 167. Let's assume you have a package with the following dimensions: W 40cm, H 40cm, and L 40cm. As a result, the volume is 0.064 (the product of all sides divided by one million). You may get a volumetric weight of 10.69 kg by multiplying this by 167. 

 The volumetric weight becomes the charged weight if it is greater than the actual weight of the goods. You can determine whether your shipment will be charged by actual weight or dimensional weight for light-air shipments using this chargeable weight calculator. To acquire precise figures for air cargo, use our calculator. 

Advantages of air freight 

There are three key advantages to air shipping: 

Speed: Aircraft are around 30 times quicker than ocean liners in terms of speed. Passenger planes go at 575 mph, while ocean ships steam slowly at 16 to 18 mph. Accordingly, it may only take five days for an air freight package to travel from a plant in China to a warehouse in the United States. To estimate transit times for air shipping, use this transit time calculator based on information from recent shipments. 

Reliability: Air shipping offers better tracking and assurance that your items will arrive at their destination on schedule. 

Protection: Compared to air freight, goods going by the ocean are more likely to sustain damage. It is, therefore, a fantastic choice for delicate things. 

When should I avoid shipping by air? 

The following are some disadvantages of air shipping: 

Cost: Air freight carries a heavy price tag compared to ocean freight. A medium-sized cargo weighing 2000 lbs. traveling from Shenzhen, China to Los Angeles, USA, can cost 1500€ by the ocean but up to 9000€ or more by air, according to comparisons of air and ocean freight. This disparity could be less because of the high ocean prices right now. 

CO2 emissions: There are a lot higher emissions from air freight. For instance, according to a study conducted by the UK government, shipping 2 tons over the ocean for 5,000 kilometers results in 150 kg of CO2 emissions as opposed to 6,605 kg when done by air. Certainly not the greenest method of shipping. 

Large, heavy objects are easily transported in shipping containers, a staple of the freight shipping industry since the 1960s. Size and weight are used to determine the price of air freight, which can cause prices to rise quickly. 

What products are typically transported by air? 

Due to the high cost of air freight, it is typically only used for smaller, more valuable commodities or those that must be delivered quickly, such as: 

  • Electronics. To transport the first iMac before the holiday season, Steve Jobs is credited with purchasing all available air freight capacity along important Asia-US lines. 
  • Apparel. Clothing seasonal trends can change quickly. Clothing must, therefore, often be moved from factories to stores as rapidly as feasible. Additionally, the small size and high cost of clothing make air freight a worthwhile expenditure. 
  • Pharmaceuticals. Medical supplies are frequently carried by air due to their tiny size and high cost. 
  • Samples and documents. The most economical technique for sending documents is still by air. To hasten the release of documents for ocean freight over a new West Coast - Hawaii ocean line, DHL Global Forwarding had its start by transporting them by air. 
  • Seasonal deliveries. Whatever the product, it will typically be supplied by air if there is significant worldwide demand for it, and it needs to be supported further down the supply chain. 

Rates & fees for air freight shipment 

Costs of flying freight and cargo: In addition to the cost of air freight, which is determined using the price listed above, the total cost of shipping by air is likely to include additionally: 

  • Fuel surcharges 
  • Security surcharges 
  • Handling fees at the container freight station or terminal 
  • Airport transfers 

Air cargo services, such as the following, will also be included in the pricing for door-to-door costs: 

  • Customs clearance 
  • Collection and delivery 
  • Cargo protection 
  • Additional costs 

Are there any changes to the quotations and costs for international air freight? 

Increased reliance on ocean freight was one factor in this. However, many importers and exporters switched to air cargo due to the lengthy delays and unstable transit times plaguing ocean freight. 

Due to limited passenger travel due to regulations, rising consumer demand, and other pandemic-related reasons, aviation cargo fares have risen since March 2020. On the other side, passenger air travel has stabilized, allowing more room for freight in the belly. Importers and exporters frequently continue using ocean freight if they can afford the time, but rates are still costly. 

Only the most urgent and high-value shipments are sent by air, as most businesses that import or export goods worldwide can benefit from inexpensive ocean freight quotations. 

Want to learn more? 

Watch the latest episode of our monthly State of the Market Webinar for air freight rates to see where you stand in the volatile markets. If you have any questions, please send them to info@xeneta.com.

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