16 Mar 2011

Air Transport

The air transport process further explained

The goods (or consolidations) are received at the airline’s handling agent warehouse.

Air France Cargo handling (Boeing 747)

The handling agent will often be a separate company contracted by the airline, but cargo handling can also be an in-house function of the airline, especially at a major hub
Also the airlines often offer their in-house cargo handling as a commercial service to other airlines.   The handling agent takes care of the air cargo handling at the airport, to and from the aircraft. 
Depending on the kind of goods, destination (flight number) and urgency, delivery at the handling agent has to be done within a certain norm-time before departure (TBD) of the aircraft, also called a slot or a slot-time.

The whole physical air transport process can be pictured by the following steps:

A variant in the air cargo process can be to get to the destination in two or more steps instead of one, then the shipment goes into a transit:

Whether a direct or a transit process should be used is up to the forwarder (where necessary in communication with the shipper) and depends on required price, throughputtime (also in relation to flight schedules of different airlines) or special cargo requirements (security, live animals, etc.) 

In case of a transit shipment the process in between the flights will look like this:

Or in some special cases or high priority cargo services, if the connection time allows,  the transit process can even look like this:

Besides the physical handling, other important functions of the handling agent are:    
  • To control the overall weight & balance of the airline’s aircraft on the cargo side, make a load sheet and assure flight safety (view a video explaining weight & balance here on CargoHub.nl or find another weight & balance explanation here on the Free Online Private Pilot Ground School ; are you wondering how to weigh a plane? check it out here at KLM's blog),  
  • To make a cargo manifest for all the goods on board, for the airline’s import and export declaration to customs
    • This is a high level customs declaration as opposed to detailed customs declaration by the forwarder or customs agent    
  • To make a notification to the captain of the aircraft (NOTOC) to inform the crew about potential risks of the cargo on board in case of emergencies (dangerous goods, live animals, valuables, etc.), as well as for the right conditioning (temperature) of the cargo holds 
  • To plan & control bookings, slot-times, goods flows in the warehouse, and ULD and flight bag flows from and to the aircraft in order to prevent delays and assure correct execution of the airline’s time-table    
  • To plan & control worldwide ULD stock 

The incoming checks before loading and departure of the aircraft are of vital importance for the airline as well as rest of the process :

  • Commercial checks  
    • According to booking  
    • Correct weights, numbers and volumes of colli indicated
  • Logistics checks
  • Delivered RFC
  • Flight safety checks
  • Correct weights, numbers and volumes of colli indicated
  • Correct and undamaged packaging
  • Potentially hazardous materials declared and correctly labelled and visible
  • Correct and complete documents and labels
  • Security checks
  • Known shipper and forwarder declared
  • Correct and undamaged packaging
  • Correct and complete documents and labels

Next the goods and documents are separately handled, sorted for destination + outgoing flight number.
  • Goods and documents are administratively connected by means of labels 
  • Documents are administrated and temporarily stored
  • Goods are handled and temporarily stored

At a certain TBD the building of the ULD’s for the flight will start, and the documents will be gathered in the flight bag
  • ULD = Unit Load Device = standardized air cargo loading equipment, e.g.
    • Main deck pallets
    • Lower deck pallets
    • Lower deck containers
    • Animal stables or containers
    • Security containers
    • Environmentally controlled containers   

ULD’s are designed to fit exactly in different aircraft types, and are considered part of the aircraft structure during flight. Find out more about the different types of ULD's here on WikiPedia , here on CargoHub or here on BA World Cargo. Or take a look at CargoComposites' Guide to Air Freight Containers (ULD's).

Now the ULD’s and documents are transported to the aircraft at the ramp.
The ULD’s are loaded in the aircraft at the planned positions, and the flight bag, including cargo manifest and NOTOC’s, is handed over to the crew.
  Air Cargo loading

Alitalia Cargo Loading at KIX

The cargo doors are shut, and the aircraft is now ready for departure.

During flight the crew will control the temperature in the aircraft cargo holds according to NOTOC or load sheet ; in most aircraft the temperature and air circulation of the cargo compartments can be set per compartment.  In case a steady cool temperature is required for the transport, containers with cooling equipment, insulation equipment or dry-ice can be used.  Look here for an example document about air freight / cold chain handling opf perishables.
In case of transport of bigger live animals (like horses or elephants), an animal attendant may fly on board and check and look after the animals during flight ; airlines that deliver these services, will often also have special areas at the airport where the animals or pets are taken care of before or after the flight.

Normally, at a certain time before arrival (TBA),  the handling agent at origin will now inform or pre-alert the airline’s handling agent at destination about the shipments and flight details.  This enables the receiving handling agent to prepare receipt of the shipment, e.g. by planning the breakdown priority of the ULD’s to ensure a smooth and fast flow of the shipments through the next stepsThis pre-alert is the freight forwarding message

At the airport of destination, the cargo and flight bag will go through the whole process again, but then ‘in reversal’.

Lan Cargo ground handling and dispatch

At receipt of the ULD’s and flight bag in the warehouse and office, the handling agent will inform the receiving forwarding agent that the shipment has arrived and the documents can be picked up.  

The manifest is cleared for customs when all individual shipments have been cleared and picked-up by the forwarder.

Not all air cargo travels in ULD’s ; smaller cargo packages can also be carried as loose cargo in the belly of the aircraft, just like the passenger’s luggageAir mail for example, is often carried in mail-bags as loose cargo in the belly holdLoading, unloading and handling loose cargo can be much faster than the the ULD process but it is also less efficient, and requires different handling equipment ; therefore loose cargo is often used for the urgent or highest priority cargo products, and in practice only on narrow-body aircraft.

Finally it is the airline's responsibility to handle claims on behalf of the customer (=forwarder) in case goods are damaged or lost in the A2A process.


Hong Kong Air Cargo Handling Terminal Automation System for Live Animals, Dangrous Goods and  Fragile Goods

Source: Air France Cargo

I invite all of you in the industry to contact me for corrections or additions, 
and who are new in the business to question me 
in order to improve the information on this site! 

go back to: Forwarding out   >>>
go one step deeper into this process: Air Transport 2    >>>
move on to the next process step: Forwarding in     >>>


What is a Backhaul said...

I like how the solutions elevate the passengers’ travel experience and optimizing airport logistics through streamlining operational processes, identifying and removing baggage handling bottlenecks, increasing flow transparency and capacity, and reducing the quantity of mishandled bags, trolleys and other assets.

Roland said...

Hi "what is a backhaul" I understand what you would like to know, but baggage generally is NOT part of the air cargo process. Baggage is transported in the same kind of containers as air cargo, but are part of the PASSENGER handling process ; the other containers and pallets on board of the aircraft are assigned as cargo and part of the CARGO handling process. Sometimes delayed or left behind luggage can travel as cargo though (e.g. on the next plane). For the baggage handling process, see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baggage_handler

Roland said...

Hi "what is a backhaul", see my other reply for your question about baggage, but do you already know what a backhaul is? Also here there is a difference for...

* CARGO (a backhaul is a shipment that allows a carrier to make money on the trip back to their home base ; see Command Transportation: http://www.commandtransportation.com/about-us/what-is-a-backhaul.aspx) and for...

* PASSENGER TRANSPORT (when you travel from your origin city via another city to your final destination and this other city is farther away from your origin than your final destination ; see Wiki.Answers: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_back_haul_check_in_airflight).

Unknown said...

Hi there! Thank you for sharing your thoughts about air freight. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about air freight. Keep it up! This is a good read. I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well.
Some companies have stopped operating or have been merged into other carriers.
We perform live animal pick-ups and deliveries.

air freight boston

Roland Spijker said...

Hi Jackie at Air Freght Boston and thank you! You can follow Air Cargo How It Works at twitter and facebook as well ; I will follow back ...

Unknown said...

Hi Roland,

I'm quit new to Air Cargo industry and find your blog very well described and interesting.
I have a question.
In the part of world where I live many Airlines have GSA who handle and sell air cargo on their behalf.Which rate are the supposed to sell to Freight Forwarders,is it an official Tact rates or do they use their own commercial rates with the agreement of the airlines? The GSA sell the cargo space to both forwarders and general public.
Secondly where can I find published an official TACT rates,is there any source?
Many thanks

Roland Spijker said...

Hi Jans, basically you can negotiate rates based on volumes shipped, and rates can vary based on space available vs demand. Here's some advise on how to negotiate better freight rates: http://chinaimport.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-negotiate-better-freight-rates
Here's the link to IATA's TACT page: http://www.iata.org/publications/Pages/air-cargo-tariff.aspx
I will try and get some more information on the subject. Plse also check the lower part of my "Shipping" page.

xclpl said...

Air Freight
Thank you for sharing Air Freight info.I'm very happy to found this post to be every informative.It is also very useful for every body.

manju said...

Hi ..why does bagages still get lost once checked in? What are the possible failure modes

Roland Spijker said...

Hi, baggage is basically handled by the passsenger departments of the airlines, not the cargo departments. Perhaps this link helps: "4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage" on http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/4-most-common-reasons-airlines-lose-luggage,7558/

Unknown said...

I always wondered how they dealt with packages going to remote places. There is no way that enough packages are going to Abu Dhabi from a small town in Texas to fill a whole plane. It makes sense now though. That seems to actually be a pretty efficient way to do air freight. http://www.alaskaairforwarding.com/construction.php

Unknown said...

I have been wondering how air transport for commercial cargo works. It's actually quite interesting. I think I should show this article to my husband.

Susan Hirst | http://www.worldcargosvc.com/commercial_cargo.php

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Ryan Maryland said...

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Jess said...

Is it possible that the Cargo/Package be Offloaded by the airline or handling agent?...and from the Process you have stipulated, which area that is vulnerable during Cargo Peak Season that can cause Delay to the goods when the work load is overwhelming.

Roland Spijker said...

Hi Jess, yes offload by the airline for capacity or payload restriction reasons, by the handler mainly for weight or non-compliance reasons e.g. when the cargo or ULD is damaged or not built correctly. So this is for the airline in the planning phase, after the booking is made until the goods are built by the handler (see "Forwarding out"). For the handler this is in the phase of building the goods and transporting them to the aircraft (see "Air Transport").
During Cargo Peak Season esp. the Mail and Express capacity and process is under heavy pressure.

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Pratik Shah said...

Hi, How does Air Freight Services in India work, Import - Custom Clearances & Export Services.

What are the process involved in each of export and import air services in india?

How is India different from other countries?

Tripathlogistics said...

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