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The Basics of Air Freight: Optimizing Your Global Supply Chain

Air Freight: Learning the Basics to Optimize Your Global Supply Chain


Before jumping into the basics, let’s first clarify what air freight means exactly. At the most basic level, air freight can be defined as: The transportation of goods by aircraft.

Shippers choose air freight as their transportation method for a couple of key reasons. These include:

  • Speed: Air freight is usually the fastest way to get goods to their destination.
  • Reliability: Despite occasional weather delays, air freight has the lowest possibility of impediment.

What’s probably the number one reason shippers avoid transporting their cargo by air? You guessed it: Cost. Air freight is often more expensive than any other mode of transportation. When considering the cost of a modal shift to air cargo, keep in mind that the freight cost is only one component of the equation.

Although air freight can be expensive, the other benefits within your supply chain will experience may offset the possibility of higher freight costs. These benefits include lower inventory carrying costs and the opportunity to capture market share.

If done successfully, incorporating the right air shipping strategy into your multi-modal, global supply chain will not only help reduce costs, but it will also promote efficiency. Don’t forget that shipping by air is not a one-size-fits-all option. Therefore, any strategy you implement should be tailored to your needs, not anyone else’s.

Three Primary Air Freight Options

The three primary air shipping options are next flight out, consolidated, and deferred. Any one (or all) may work for your business. There are other options to consider as well, like air charter, which can help secure the capacity you need and allows you to use an exclusive aircraft to meet any other unique requirements.

  1. Next Flight Out
    Definition: As the name suggests, your air freight is shipped as soon as a flight is available.
    Characteristics: Sometimes referred to as expedited, this is the fastest air cargo shipping option, but is also often the most costly. Expedited air requires a provider with the resources to locate capacity at the last minute to ensure your timelines are met.
  2. Consolidated Shipping
    Definition: Providers combine your air freight with the cargo of several other shippers prior. Watch this video for an overview of the process.
    Characteristics: Consolidated air shipments move on a set schedule. By transporting at set times and with a larger shipment of goods, providers are often able to secure better rates. The key to consolidating air cargo is having enough shipments to merge together. A small provider may not work with enough companies to have regular shipments of consolidated air freight, which could lead to delays.
  3. Deferred 
    Definition: Postponing the shipment of your lower priority freight until there is space available on the aircraft.
    Characteristics: Often this type of air shipment still operates on a regular schedule. With this type of service, shippers simply defer their air cargo to the third, fourth, or fifth business day. This type of air cargo often offers the greatest cost savings due to the potential for longer transit times.

Final Thoughts

That just about sums up the basics of air freight, but by no means covers everything you need to know about the importance of incorporating air cargo into your supply chain. For a better understanding of air freight and incorporating it into your supply chain, read the white paper, Optimizing Your Supply Chain with Air Cargo, which takes a deeper look at the many facets and benefits of air freight.

Still looking for the right air cargo service? Learn more about our air freight solutions.


Next Terra

Nice Article.




Hi .... can you give some sort of figures
say percentage saving through going for consolidated or deferred




    Hi Bill,
    Let me quickly sum up what all about airfreight.
    1. Costly, Urgency & Efficiency of cargoes movement.
    2. Consolidation cargoes are most likely to protect you and your clientele shipments.. buying and selling rates are more flexible for you and all profits make through consolidations are depending on how many shipments consolidated per shipment uplifted.
    3. Deferred shipment are not priority or cost saving shipment as it still by air and can be uplift out next or roll over to the next flight depending on the schedules..but I can share with you mostly for these type cargoes they are daily or shorter shipment to neighboring country only.



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Najma Qureshi

Something interesting information i have learnt from this article. It provides a good information about air freight. Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge.




Hello, thanks so much about the imformation above. But can you give me more imformation about Global Air Cargo Supply Chain? as contend, define.. or something relevent with this topic?



Suyash Deshmukh

It is a beautiful post!!

I got a deep knowledge about Air freight from your article. I will share it with my colleague.

Thank you.



Global Exchain

Your article about The Basics of Air Freight is very helpful for us. Thanks for this post. This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic.



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