Air Freight: Cargo Handling and Terminals

Introduction Air Freight Terminals

This is a very small article and it tries to give an idea of air cargo handling to those who have no idea about the world of air cargo.  A lot of cargo is transported by airlines, and passengers barely notice the cargo that is accompanying them on their flight. Air cargo is present on almost all flights, except the small local flights on tiny aircraft used for airfield to airfield trips.

A world of equipment is available to the cargo section to help the various types of freight to be loaded on to and offloaded from the aircraft. Freight loaded in the compartments below the passenger cabin goes by the name of belly freight. The sections are called forward and aft compartments and the last part is called the hold.


air freightCreative Commons Licence Courtesy: Bill Abbott



Air cargo goes through various stages of handling. The freight forwarders organise the bookings, the labelling, the security screening and the delivery of the freight to the airline. In the airline warehouse the freight goes through package and label checks, documentation, customs clearance, and finally the loading into air freight containers called ULDs (Unit Load Devices)

Loading Freight into an Aircraft. Here a Boeing 747-400 Freighter. Courtesy: Jesper Frank


The Customs office is the last hurdle to cross. Authorities can demand inspection. They can even stop the freight from being flown. In Certain countries, advance information of the freight is to be sent to customs. This is done electronically and is termed AMS or Advance Manifest Service.


The air cargo terminals are busy centres where the job can be very stressful, as  hundreds and thousands of air cargo pieces go through various levels of processing. Wrong labels can mean the freight is routed to a wrong destination and wrong “positioning” (moving the freight to the loading position) can mean the air cargo flies to the wrong country. Air freight terminal staff need to be fast in processing air freight, be it offloading or positioning the various freight ready for further carriage.


Here is a view of Hong Kong Terminal. Courtesy HKTDC



Here is another video of Hong Kong Cargo Terminal. Technically advanced, state of the art terminal. Courtesy  InteliBuild


Air freight has become an inseparable part of aviation and even in small air ports small freight is being handled. Air freight terminals are also a vital link to the economy of a country and a high standard of professionalism is demanded from the terminal staff, as freight needs to processed effectively and very fast.

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    References to air cargo and air cargo terminals

    Air Cargo – IATA

    Air cargo transports goods worth in excess of $6.4 trillion on an annual basis. This is approximately 35% of world trade by value. The sector itself generates …

    The Cobra is the dynamic prime mover of McGrath Industries’ Slave Dolly workstation system. Slave Dollies allow open warehouse floor area to be utilised for ULD loading and storage operations – no need for fixed conveyor equipment. The Cobra transporter provides rapid flexible Slave Dolly movement in a safe efficient manner that requires only the minimum possible aisle width and turning space.

    Ship small parcels, packages or large cargo with Air Canada Cargo

    Air Canada Cargo’s shipping solutions are tailored to the needs of international shippers and small businesses. Find rates, as well as shipment preparation and …

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