18 Feb 2011

The Air Mail Chain

The Air Mail Chain

How does Air Mail work? What does the Air Mail chain look like?

Airmail is probably the oldest air cargo service. Generally there is one postal organisation per country. In the old days tariffs with the airlines were negotiated by the government as owner. The home carriers were and are often best positioned for the local postal organisation airmail flows. They transport the airmail to other countries, where the mail is exchanged against internationally established protocols and tariffs (see the site of UPU also).

A typical airmail chain consists of the following steps:

And in some more detail:

There are five basic differences between the airmail chain and the normal air cargo chain:

  • The first basic difference between is the fact that the postal organisations themselves are fully handling the door-to-door chain, except for the real airport-airport part. Sometimes even the ramp transport to and/or from the aircraft is arranged by the postal organisation to gain handling speed, so the airline handling agent only performs loading and/or unloading of the aircraft.
  • The second basic difference is the air transport document and the information and functions thereof (see next paragraph also). Air cargo uses the Air waybill, and Airmail uses the CNdoc.
  • Third: airmail shipments are not booked but fly on predefined allotments
  • Fourth difference is the commercial aspect of airmail (see next sheets)
  • A fifth difference is the EDI message exchange for paper free exchange of information between all parties in the airmail chain. Mainly based on CARDIT (CARrier/Documents International Transport advice) and RESDIT (RESponse to Documents International Transport advice) messages, instead of FWB (Airwaybill) and FSU (Freight Status Update) messages. Right click here for the Post-airline EDI guide.

Air Cargo vs Airmail: AWB vs CNdoc

Commercial aspects of Airmail

There are a lot of changes going on in the postal organisations today.  Nowadays many postal organisations are privatised, and negotiate the tariffs and contracts themselves.  Because they often have to deal with a high cost structure left over from the government days, tariffs are under high pressure.

At the same time, the international express companies have moved into the domain of the postal services, offering high performance and reliable door-to-door services for envelopes and parcels, with on-line tracking & tracing at competitive pricing.  In order to stay competitive with the express companies, the postal organisations will have to move towards comparable services and pricing fast.  And the airlines as their air transport suppliers, will then have to facilitate these services with tracking & tracing systems and EDI messaging if they want to keep this mail business.  Therefore IATA and UPU have set a standard for EDI messaging between all parties in the airmail chain (see previous).  Currently, the intense price competition, added with over-capacity, will sometimes lead carriers to even drop or lower fuel and security surcharges.

Future of Mail by Air (FoMbA)

This initiative began after changes in the mail and airline industry, when the transport network of mail by air was becoming less reliable and less sustainable to support growing market and regulatory demands.

The Future of Mail by Air initiative aims at transferring the traditional customer-supplier relationship between posts and air carriers into business partnership and to improve the visibility of mail in transport at a lower overall operating cost. Optimisation options for business processes are identified in the areas of sourcing, planning, handover monitoring and accounting of mail transport by air. The key optimisation option identified is to align mail and cargo processes in transport without changing the legal status of mail.

The vision is to implement paper-free transport and accounting for post-to-post, posts and ground handler, and post to carrier and border agency exchanges.  Look here on the site of IPC also.

Further information on Air Mail

For further information on the history of airmail look here on Wikipedia as well.

Also take a look at this presentation "Airmail Pick-Up Past & Present" on YouTube:


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! 

[last updated apr 24th, 2018]



xclpl said...

Air Freight

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

LenP said...

International Airmail

This is the only discussion about how airmail is moved around the world that I have found. Is there any information available anywhere about how airmail was switched between airlines in the years immediately after World War II -- 1946-1951? My research seems to indicate that there were sorting offices in places like Paris and Cairo for routing mail between Air France and TWA and BOAC coming from Asia and Africa to the United States. Does anyone know of any information about this? Thanks!

Roland Spijker said...

Hi LenP yes it is very difficult to find something about air cargo processes and especially about air mail. Perhaps there is something to be found in these books or via the author: "History of Air Cargo and Airmail from the 18th Century" or "Histoire de la poste dans le monde" by Camille Allaz (https://www.google.nl/search?hl=nl&tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=inauthor:%22Camille+Allaz%22)
Good luck brgds Roland.

LenP said...

Roland, Thanks. I've looked at that book but didn't find the info I'm looking for. LenP.

American International Shipping said...

These blogs and articles are fully good enough for me.

American International Shipping
air cargo carriers

Ob Logistics said...

Thanks to Share Nice post. Air freight singapore

Zahidul Hasan said...

Great site! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more.

Full Truck Load services in Laredo

jacob20martin said...

The less package dispatch time is from the day of order the more your customer will start trusting you. The reason is that most of the customers pick the services that delivery stuff on time. That’s why we also need the medical courier Dallas services which can deliver our packages to the retailers in a day or two.