Air cargo: When air delivery does not pay off?

Did you enjoy solving maths problems at school? Perfect, as we have one to solve: Aeroplanes carry less than 1% weight of all goods transported in the world. The value of goods shipped by air accounts for 35% of the value of all goods transported. Therefore what should not be worth shipping by air?

If you have noticed that this problem seems kind of twisted or even absurd, you deserve a little hint: in mid-2018, DHL ordered 14 Boeing 777 cargo aircraft (payload of 103 tonnes), while two years earlier UPS bought 14 Boeing 747-8F cargo aircraft (payload of 140 tonnes). The value of the purchase contracts amounted to $4.7 billion and $5.3 billion respectively.

The cheapest, turns out to actually be the most expensive

The air transport market is growing, and according to the forwarding companies this trend will continue in the near future. Hence the colossal amount of investment in the development of the air fleet, which is being observed at the moment.

This does not mean, however, that the air transport is going to become any cheaper. Air shipments have always been, and remain, the most expensive. Of course, until space shipments appear! Thus, the value of goods transported by air is enormous in relation to their tonnage. Expensive shipment methods may only be worthwhile in the case of high value goods. Therefore, in the case of other goods, unless they have a sentimental value, the shipping cost may be much higher than their market value. So this is the first tip in the answer to the question whether it is worth shipping goods by air.

The price of speed and security

You should not only avoid air shipping the low value goods, but the heavy objects as well. Excluding absolutely exceptional situations (e.g. natural disasters), nobody would ship building materials (like reinforced steel, as well as mineral wool or polystyrene) by air. The metal ores, coal, oil and many other goods whose value is low in relation to their weight or volume our also out of questions for air shipping.

With air freight you are mostly charged by the weight and volume, however you are also the part of the cost is related to the speed of delivery. Air transport is the fastest, with no competition whatsoever. However, you should check before any given shipment, whether speedy delivery of few days instead of few weeks is really worth paying for. An additional argument to be considered is transport safety. Although air crashes raise strong emotions due to the nonstop media coverage, statistically air transport is the safest way of transporting people and goods.

Pack your load light for the the plane

Once you decide that it is worth paying for speed and security, you should ensure that you pay no more for your parcel than necessary. The choice of the right packaging depends not only on its ability to protect the goods against damage, but also on its weight and volume, which directly affect the price of the shipment. General packaging guidelines for air shipment should be strictly followed as core principles. The packaging should be made of the lightest possible material and should fit the product size. If a pallet is required, it should also be as light as possible – e.g. a super light polystyrene pallet.

Prohibited goods

The list of goods that cannot be shipped by air covers practically the same list of goods that cannot be sent in parcels (for more read the text: “Tarantula in a parcel. What cannot be sent by courier?”). The list includes alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, firearms, some medicines, toxic, poisonous and explosive substances, antiques and many other goods which under the applicable law of certain countries are prohibited from air shipment.

Each air freight company has its own prohibited goods list. It is worth knowing what is on the given list so as not to get an unpleasant surprise. And in contrast to land transport where many “odd” parcel contents may not draw any attention, in air cargo all packages are x-rayed, and therefore you cannot rely on good fortune. In extreme cases, a lack of foresight can result in a morning visit from “gentlemen” without a sense of humour and wearing black balaclavas.