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For most business owners, air cargo and air freight are used interchangeably to refer to the transport of goods by air. These two modes of long-distance shipping are similar. Yet, there are also distinct differences between them that could affect which method of transportation is most suitable for your international trade needs.

Using air freight is an essential component of international shipping, acting as a crucial link in the chain with other forms of freight services to transport your goods seamlessly from one location to another. Discover which form of air transportation is best for your business operation.

The Efficiency of Shipping via Air Cargo

When time is of the essence, you need air transportation. This mode of transport is time-sensitive, and you’re able to send goods virtually anywhere worldwide using in-depth tracking and enhanced security.

If you were to send a package by sea using ocean freight forwarding services, you would wait several weeks for your destination to receive your goods. Although ocean freight is the most common form of long-distance shipping for importers and exporters, it has drawbacks that sometimes make it unsuitable.

Air Freight Meaning

The terms freight or cargo refer to the transportation of goods from one place to another, but the air cargo meaning typically refers only to goods transported by plane or ship. The air freight definition has a much broader meaning and can also be applied to the transportation of goods via road, ocean, rail, and air.

To clarify this further, cargo refers to the goods carried by a third-party aircraft, while an air freight company moves this cargo onto their plane. While the term cargo can be used interchangeably with freight, it refers to what a plane carries versus how it is carried.


Air Freight vs Courier Services

Air freight courier services provide very convenient, door to door service.

Generally, air freight international shipping services provide more cost effective service than courier companies do when you have bulky, international shipments.

Small, specialized cargo or a postal size international package often gets delivered by one of the many air courier delivery services like FedEx or DHL

The Benefits of Choosing Air Freight Services

There are many advantages to choosing international freight forwarders specializing in air freight, which is why this is one of the most popular shipping options:

Although this mode of transportation is typically not as cost-effective as other methods, its benefits may outweigh the nominal costs. Depending on your specific supply chain needs and logistics requirements, shipping by air may be the best solution for you.

Here are some benefits of sending goods via international air shipment:

  • Faster than other methods
  • Has worldwide reach (e.g., North America to Asia)
  • Includes a high level of security with less risk of theft or damage
  • Suits time-sensitive goods, such as perishable items
  • Easier to track shipments
  • Doesn’t require as much packaging as sea freight
  • Doesn’t involve Less-than-container Load (LCL) shipments
  • Has a reliable schedule with dependable arrival and departure times that are only affected by harsh weather

Factors That Influence Your Shipment Choice

Weighing up the pros and cons is a crucial part of any decision-making process and can help you make the right choice. The following important factors should be considered whenever you wish to send air freight shipments.

Cost and Freight Rates

Standard air freight rates are calculated according to the package’s volume and weight when goods are transported via air. A wide range of factors affect the total costs, such as the distance between your location and the destination, the cargo size and type, route planning considerations, and other air freight options.

According to a study conducted by the World Bank, a standard air freight shipment costs between 4 and 5 times an equivalent road transport shipment and 12 to 16 times that of sea freight.

Shipping goods by air is more expensive than other forms of transportation, so if time isn’t a factor for you and you want to save money, shipping by air may not be a budget-friendly choice.

Transit Time

One of the primary air freight benefits is short transit time. On average, the typical transit time for an air freight shipment following one of the shorter major routes (e.g., London to New York City) is between 8 and 12 hours. Shipments following a longer or alternate route (e.g., Shanghai to Chicago) may take up to 7 days.

A typical cargo ship following a major ocean freight route (e.gShanghai to Los Angeles) has a usual transit time of 13-15 days. Longer routes can take up to 2 months.

One of the primary advantages of air freight is speed. If you need to ship time-sensitive goods (e.g., perishable freight) or your business depends on just-in-time delivery, there is no transportation method faster than air shipping.

You can save even more time with the help of a qualified air freight forwarder, as they have the expertise to help you expedite the more complex aspects of international shipping.

Size and Weight

One of the most critical factors to consider is cargo size and weight. Air freight cargo has the most limitations on shipment size and weight due to the limited available space on cargo planes. The high costs associated with air freight shipping services are primarily due to fuel costs, although specific environmental and political factors may also be significant factors.

If you primarily need to send small packages, the chargeable weight of your air shipments should remain manageable. You can save even more time with industry-specific solutions such as an on board courier (OBC). An OBC is a specialized express courier who can fly to any destination and deliver smaller packages personally.

Air shipping large and heavy cargo can quickly become prohibitively expensive and should only be considered for the most time-sensitive products. If you still want to ship large cargo by air, a dedicated team of air freight forwarders can help you make the right decisions and limit unnecessary costs as much as possible.

Package type

What you want to send also influences how it can be sent. Air freight carriers typically won’t transport hazardous materials (e.g., flammables, corrosives, dangerous gasses, explosives, biohazardous materials, some types of medical supplies, etc.) unless they comply with a strict set of rules and guidelines.

For example, the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) manual outlines what is considered a hazardous or dangerous substance, what dangers they pose, and how to properly label and identify these goods.

The DGR also explains which rules and requirements air freight carriers, airlines, and shippers must follow to ship sensitive freight safely and legally, ensuring they pass customs clearance procedures without issues.

A dedicated team of air freight specialists can help you navigate the many national, regional, and international regulations surrounding hazardous materials.

Air Freight vs. Air Cargo: The Final Word on Differences

So is there a difference between air freight & cargo? It turns out that there isn’t a big difference between the two. These terms are often interchangeable in the shipping industry, and the only time these terms are differentiated depends on the shipping company you use.

Asiana USA, Your Air Freight Experts

Air freight services are one of the best ways to transport your goods over a long distance, but figuring out the best approach to logistics by air without expert help can be complicated.

At Asiana USA, we offer timely, reliable service for customers who need international freight forwarding, cargo tracking, and other supply chain management services.

Contact our team of freight experts at (855) 500-1808. Our customer service team can answer your questions and help you navigate the complex world of freight shipment with ease.

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