Air Freight Operations Procedure – The Complete Guideline

Air Freight Operations Procedure

Air Freight operations procedure is a series of connected events. All these events help process the air freight consignments from the beginning to the end. This article aims to present all the operations events connected to air cargo shipping. Experts in the field, please, supply any missing information. Please send me information to extend the scope of this article. As far as possible, I shall try to avoid technical terms. I am writing for shippers and consignees. Please ask questions if you have doubts.

Starting Out? Confused? Worried?  – Getting Acquainted With air Cargo

Confronted with your upcoming air cargo? It is a good idea to break down the process into smaller elements. Once that is done organise the elements and come up with a plan, The points below will help one get a grasp of the situation.

Air Freight Operations Procedures – Introduction

Air Cargo Operations Procedure, as mentioned is a series of interconnected events. We can split this into four categories.

  1. Planning
  2. Structuring
  3. Organising
  4. Executing


Well planned is half done. One needs to gather information regarding production time or sourcing time. Time required for packaging needs to be done. Paperwork information needs to be planned.


Activity needs to be structured. That is the step prior to organising. After all the information has been gathered, one needs to structure them in order to follow a well defined sequence. It is good to put into place what needs to be done first so that every step is carefully detailed.


Who needs to do what? Assign the tasks to follow a systematic flow. Set time limits. People need to co-ordinate with one another. Paperwork is important even in the time of electronic documents. Hence, the assigned people have to organise the documents. They need to check for errors and then finalise them, sort them, put them together.


Inspect the packaging. Make sure of the safety measures. Check the labels, the packing lists, put the other documents in place. Organise the pick up. Set the time limits. Assign a person to oversee the pick up. Take excellent photocopies of the documents. Arrange for photos of the consignment if necessary. Send all the papers to the freight forwarder. In addition send details of the consignee. It should include telephone numbers and email addresses. Wait for the air waybill copy and flight details. Then send the consignee the copies of the air waybill, the commercial invoice, the packing list and any other relevant document.

Breaking Down Air Freight Operational Process – Understanding Air Cargo Shipping

Objectivity is the keyword. Looking at the air freight from both the sides, i. e. from the export side and from the import side, will give a better understanding of the process. The export view gives you the requirements needed for exporting. Viewing it from the import side will enlighten you on the consignee’s needs at the time of import. Have a look at Air Cargo How It Works. The page give you a clear overview of the processes involved in shipping by air. In the following sections, I shall explain step by step the elements involved.

Before Air Freight Comes the Law – Is The Export Permitted By Law?

Before you set the whole process of shipping by air in motion, ask yourself the following questions. The law is an inseparable part of the air cargo operations.

  • Are there any laws prohibiting the export of the product?
  • Are there any restrictions to exporting it?
  • Is an export permit a pre-condition for exporting?
  • Is there any embargo on the country of import?
  • Does the consignee need an import licence?
  • If the consignee needs an import licence, how much time will it take for him to obtain one. Does he need any document from you for that?

Air Shipping Involves Paperwork – Unavoidable Part of Air Cargo Operations

Shipping by air involves paperwork. Whether electronic or real paper, documents are a part of the shipping. Have a look at the commonly used documents in air freight. The article will you an idea of the paperwork needed. The bare minimum includes a commercial or a pro-forma invoice and a packing list. The commonly used language is English. There are exceptions, such as Brazil, which requires invoices to be in Portuguese.

Air Cargo Operations Step By Step – How do I ship air cargo?

  • Find out whether there is any prohibition against exporting the product.
  • Are there any restrictions on exporting? Is an export permit required?
  • Assess the production / sourcing time. How long will it take to produce or source the product or its raw materials.
  • What export documentation are needed : commercial invoice, packing list, any customs documents?
  • Air Freight Packaging Requirements : sourcing packaging materials, the packaging itself.
  • Have you used wood in your packaging? Please see the article on Solid Wood Packaging Materials (SWPM).
  • Safety and security measures to be covered: list of security checks need to be done
  • Does the consignee need an import licence? If yes, how long will it take? What documents do you need to send him to assist him?
  • Price calculation : Listing all the possible costs.
  • Create your packing list. If you are putting various items in to the packages. Number each package with a number. Add the number to your packing list entry.
  • Package the goods. If you are using a pallet, avoid an overhang. If using a wooden crate/pallet, the IPPC logo must be visible for inspection (see image below).
  • Content protection : enough padding inside to avoid wobbly content.
  • Waterproofing : is it needed?
  • Will the freight need cooling? while covering the package with plastic, please leave the bottom free of plastic covering to allow ventilation.
  • No ice packs inside!
  • Close all openings. There should be no openings accessible from outside.
  • Check documents : Commercial invoice, Packing list, Certificate of Origin etc.
  • Send all documents to the consignee and await confirmation
  • Prepare the SLI (Shipper’s Letter of Instruction, send it to the freight forwarder along with all the documents (commercial invoice, packing list etc.).
  • Wait for the freight forwarder to send you the air waybill
  • Send the air waybill by email, along with your commercial invoice, packing list and any other relevant documents to your buyer
air cargo operation process ippc
IPPC identification

Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding Systems (HS)
The Harmonized System is an international nomenclature for the classification of products. It allows participating countries to classify traded goods on a common basis for customs purposes. At the international level, the Harmonized System (HS) for classifying goods is a six-digit code system.

Incoterms : Always follow the official terms

The Incoterms® rules are the world’s essential terms of trade for the sale of goods. Whether you are filing a purchase order, packaging and labelling a shipment for freight transport, or preparing a certificate of origin at a port, the Incoterms® rules are there to guide you. The Incoterms® rules provide specific guidance to individuals participating in the import and export of global trade on a daily basis.

Export Policy In The Country of Export

Once the items in the above section have been fully and correctly checked and questions satisfactorily answered, the next step is to check the policies in place in the country of export. Some of the relevant items are mentioned below:

  • Is an export permit or licence required? If yes, what documents or information are needed? How long will it take to get hold of the document (permit or licence)

  • Is there a restriction on export?

  • Is an export declaration required by the local customs authorities?

  • Are there any export duties? If yes, are you eligible for Duty Drawback (This is relevant for exporters in Bharat (“India”) (Drawback Rules, 1995). Talk to your customs broker.)

The freight forwarder and the local chamber of commerce will help in answering the points above. Let the air freight export consignment adhere to the export policy of the country of export.

Import Policy In The Country of Import

Check with the consignee:

  • Airport of destination (importer might need an import registration at that airport)
  • Documentation : get a list of all documents required
  • Good Information: the country of import might need certain information regarding the products
  • Any specific numbers needed? Cubic metres, square metres, litres etc.
  • Packaging information : some countries prohibit the use of black shrink-wrap
  • Voltage, Watt restrictions or details
  • CE marking (for many products CE marking is mandatory in the European Union)
  • Transit : certain countries prohibit a transit via a few countries.
  • Are attested commercial invoices needed?
  • Brazil usually demands invoices in Portuguese

Exporting to South America – Flight Routing via Miami

Please take this advice seriously. If your cargo is destined for South America, especially Brazil, measure the dimensions of your cargo very precisely. Weight it carefully. The numbers MUST be precise. If the routing is via Miami (Airport code is MIA), FL, US, a discrepancy in the dimensions or in the weight might cause the freight to be stranded for a time and you might be charges for the discrepancy. Hence, in addition to a delay, you will be charged.

If you are using wood packaging material (SWPM or WPM), check that the wood is of IPPC standard and that the IPPC stamp is visible from outside (branded on the outside, visible from the side)

Air Cargo Operations Process Terms – Understanding the terminology

This is a list of terms used in air freight. Only short explanations are given

  • ABD : (Ausfuhrbegleitdokument) The German Export Declaration
  • Active and passive cooling : active cooling requires a cooling container. Passive does not. Freight is kept in a temperature controlled section
  • Air Waybill : transport document that accompanies the freight
  • AOG : Aircraft On Ground. Emergency situation. Aircraft awaiting parts for repair
  • Apron : the area of the airport where an aircraft is parked
  • ATA Carnet : an international document for transporting goods that will return. Meant for exhibition etc. Goods exempted from customs duties
  • Belly cargo : cargo loaded in the belly of the aircraft. Also called lower deck
  • Bill of Entry : An electronic document sent to customs to clear goods
  • CAO : Cargo Aircraft Only. A term used for Dangerous goods that may be transported only on a freighter
  • Cbm : Cubic meter
  • Certificate of Conformity : a certificate for electric and electronic goods, required by some countries
  • Certificate of Origin : a certificate attesting the origin of the goods. Needed for exemption or reduction of duties
  • Chargeable weight : the weight on which the air freight charge is applied
  • Cut off time : the time limit within which a freight must be tendered to the airline
  • Dark alarm : an alarm set off when x-rays cannot penetrate a freight when being scanned. A security alert. An Explosive Trace Detection is needed
  • DGR : Dangerous Goods Regulation
  • Dimensions : The internationally followed sequence is Length x Width x Height
  • Envirotainer : air freight container to load goods. Consignments are not loaded as loose items but in containers. Also called ULD (see below)
  • ETA : Estimated Time of Arrival. It does not mean the goods are immediately available.
  • ETD : Estimated Time of Departure
  • Export Declaration : A document showing the details of the goods to be exported. Required by customs authorities of the country of export.
  • Floor Board Tolerance : Please the article on Floor Board Tolerance
  • Form A : A certificate of origin issued by the local chamber of industry and commerce. Needed for exemption or reduction of customs duties
  • Freighter : An aircraft that carries only freight. Not a passenger aircraft
  • Gross weight : Total weight of the goods (Content plus packaging)
  • Handling : the process of  managing goods in the warehouse: inspection, attaching labels, moving for x-ray, checking for security loopholes
  • Hazmat : Abbreviation for Hazardous Materials. Also called Dangerous Goods.
  • HS Code : a numerical code consisting of eleven digits.Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding Systems
  • Incoterms : Terms of trade. See link below
  • Lower Deck : the lower freight room of the aircraft. Also called belly
  • LT : Short form for Local Time used by freight forwarders and airlines.
  • LTOA : A term used by airlines: Latest Time Of Acceptance. Freight has to be tendered to the airline Ready For Carriage within this time .
  • Main deck : The upper deck of the aircraft
  • MRN : Movement Reference Number
  • Nett weight : the weight of the contents of the goods minus the packaging
  • Neutralisation : The process of removing identity of the dealer from the packaging
  • Nose Load : the process of loading freight through the nose of the aircraft. See graphic below
  • Ready for carriage : Nothing more needs to be done. packaging and labelling all ready. Airline can process the consignment for flight.
  • REX : Registered Exporter. A system started by the European Union. Details explained below.
  • Stackable : a freight of more than one piece. One atop the other.
  • TLC : Three Letter Code. All airports have a three letter coding
  • Top-load : load placed on top of another piece of freight.If permissible the term used is TOP-LOAD OK.
  • Transit : Halting at intermediate airports before reaching the final destination. Freight may be transferred to another flight.
  • ULD : Unit Load Device. Air freight containers and pallets that carry freight on aircraft.
  • Volume : the space occupied by the freight. Three versions : 1:6, 1:5 and 1:3. The last one is called high-dense. Explained here

Consultation Needed?

supath air freight consultationation






Leave a comment