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 …

Air Freight : Do It Right



Air Freight is expensive and there should be no compromise on quality. You value your client and the your product. The transport of your valuable product should meet the same quality standards. The point here is NOT the ISO quality benchmarks, on the contrary practical points that are utilised to move the freight. The importance here is not of getting the freight to the client but HOW will it get there. SUPATH Air Freight tries to give you as much information as possible and all from reality.

Flow of Information

In the unbroken span of thirteen years in air freight, I can say without doubt that one of the major points that was ignored was the flow of information. Right from the customised declaration to the final processing of the goods at the airport of arrival, the key role is played by information.

Telephone, email and fax (pity it is still being used!) are all vital lines. VOIP is, unfortunately, not a favourite choice. One of the reasons quoted is that of security.


Placing an order does not mean the end of the operations process. The seller might have questions, the buyer might have enquiries. Changes might be needed in the order. Email is, no doubt, the easiest way to communicate them. However, the addressee may be facing computer problems such as server failure, crashes, non-availability of lines etc. Fax comes handy, because a transmission failure will be received immediately. A short telephone call will help. Motto: Keep the lines open. Communication must be possible.


Abide by the rules of packaging (ISPM 15, IPPC logo). Does the country of destination demand a Non-Wood Packing Declaration? or a Fumigation Certificate? If recycled packaging is used, remove old barcode and air freight labels! If cartons are being used, make sure they are sturdy. All holes and cracks must be secured. Any opening will be classified as “Packaging Prone to Manipulation” leading to rejection of freight or repackaging measures. This means not only cost but also time lost.

Shipper and Consignee addresses have to be clearly mentioned on the packaging. Avoid small print. Warehouse staff have very less time. Enough room should be available for airfreight labels. If documents are being attached to the outside of the consignment, the affixing must be quite sturdy and resistant to being ripped off. Shipments are placed as close together as possible to save  space and moving the freight might result in documents being lost


First question: Does the country of destination stipulate that the original documents accompany the goods? If yes ; please check the regulations; please do not ignore it. Ignoring that will create extreme difficulties for your client.

Send high quality scanned documents via email or even by FTP. Include ALL the documents


Shipper : make sure the consignment leaves your warehouse with a clean receipt. No damage receipt should be maintained.

Consignee: make sure the content received is free from any visible damage

If, during delivery, freight shows signs of damage, document it (photographs with date and time), the air way bill number should be visible on the photos (all freight pieces will have air freight labels attached).


NEVER forget! The driver picking up or delivering the goods must be made to sign a receipt. That should include the vehicle registration, the printed name of the driver, the delivery company, the delivery / pick up time and date.

Claims and Intend to Claim

Do not ask the shipper to table a claim immediately after receiving the freight. A freight with visible damage will NOT be accepted by any airline for transportation. A damage can occur in the warehouse of the airline or at the airport of destination. Send a letter of liability to the freight forwarder that delivered the goods. The lorry company is not the company to be held liable by you. The freight forwarder has sub-contracted the delivery. So the letter of claim should be addressed to the freight forwarder who ordered the delivery of the goods.


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Alaska Air Cargo Home | Alaska Airlines

Book your next Shipment with Alaska Airlines Cargo. We makes it easy to ship to any of our 80+ destinations in North America with online booking.

Cargo airline – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cargo airlines (or airfreight carriers, and derivatives of these names) are airlines dedicated to the transport of cargo by air. Some cargo airlines are divisions or …

Air cargo tracking – track-trace

The air cargo tracking page lets you track air cargo for 177 airlines. A track-trace service.

Please check  other posts on air freight shipment and export.

Air Freight: What You Need To Know

International Air Freight Consultant


Air freight mode of transport is fast but expensive but in a fast-moving world  there is no other faster mode of transport . Businesses must be fast in getting their freight to their clients. Unless sea freight has been mentioned explicitly air freight remains the popular mode of transport in moving small to medium freight. Large freight is shipped by air, when an emergency arises. As air freight is expensive, attention is to be paid to the details and the planning should be fast and correct. Knowledge is power and armed with the right information, a company can keep the cost under control. SUPATH brings you practical suggestions that you can use, and  knowledge that has been tested


Cost Involved : Mandatory Charges

The following charges will definitely be an inseparable part of air freight. There are charges that cannot be listed by SUPATH because the charges vary from country to country and from company to company.

  • Pick up – from the shipper’s place to the freight forwarder or to the airport warehouse
  • Haulage – the lorry service to the airport of departure
  • Handling – air way bill, labelling, warehouse checking, customs formalities
  • air freight rate – based on chargeable weight (gross weight or volume weight: whichever is higher)
  • Fuel Surcharge : usually charged on gross weight. Of late most of the airlines charge this on chargeable weight
  • Risk Surcharge: also called security surcharge. charging mode similar to Fuel Surcharge
  • AMS Fee : Automated Manifest Service Fee: Airlines need to transfer air way bill data to customs authorities. Electronic transfer
  • Warehouse Charges: demurrage charges! ask for tariff. There is no general tariff. Each country and each airport of destination has its own listing! SUPATH can never warn you enough.  Delay could mean a shocking invoice!

Costs Involved : Possible Charges

  • Dangerous Goods Fee : only applicable to hazardous goods (IATA regulation)
  • Development Fee : only if the airport of destination lists this (Canada does)
  • Broker Transfer Fee : depends on who does the brokerage. Applicable if the de-consolidator and the broker doing the customs clearance is not the same company.
  • Crane  or Forklift charges
  • Insurance : If you want to insure the freight, you need to cover it before the pick up of the freight

Documents involved

  • Commercial Invoice(s)
  • Packing Lists (freight to India: if you have  more than one piece please include a packing list)
  • Delivery Note : some companies issue these. Not needed for customs clearance
  • Pro-forma Invoice : NOT accepted by customs in India for clearance.
  • Certificate of Origin : needed in countries that have Agreement on Preferential Tariffs ( goods from India to Europe should carry Certificate of Origin; also called Form A; so that the importer can get reduction on duties. Original certificate is to be tabled.
  • Certificate of Conformity : usually for electronic and electrical goods. Also applicable for telecommunication equipment in certain countries
  • Export Permit : In Europe, if the goods for export fall in of the categories of dual use listed in the appendices of the EC regulation, an export permit in original is mandatory
  • Export declaration : varies from country to country. In India the export clearance takes time and a customs inspection may take place.
  • Customs Bond : in the US, either a single entry bond or a continuous bond is mandatory
  • ATA Carnet : needed only for exhibitions. Not all countries are parties to the ATA Carnet contract.
  • Fumigation Certificate or Non-Wood Packing Declaration may be required by the country of destination
  • IEC : (Import Export Code) : needed by importers in India along with the PAN (Permanent Account Number)


Check the invoices for mistakes (spelling mistakes in names can cost money: e. g. South American destinations)! Keep contact lines open: time is money

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