The first consignment of cargo carried by air was transported between London and Paris in 1924. Since this first cargo flight the carrying capacity and efficiency of aircraft has developed and increased dramatically. The movement of cargo by air is a highly specialised business, which is, in many respects, very different from moving cargo by sea or overland. It is subject to restrictions that arise from the nature of the aircraft itself.
Increasing importance of airfreight
Two major changes have taken place over recent years in many manufacturing industries and it is due to these changes that air freight is becoming a popular choice for transporting products internationally. The reason for this increase is:
- The growing volume of technology-based products, these products are becoming lighter and smaller while their value is becoming greater justifying the expense of air freight
- The second is the rapidly increasing trend in many industries towards "just-in-time" (JIT) inventories JIT is most effective where the goods in question can be moved by air. The benefits of JIT ordering are:
- A substantial reduction in capital requirements
- A substantial reduction in stockholding
Loading and stowing of cargo
Air cargo has to be specially prepared or modified to enable the cargo to fit into the aircraft. The upper and lower deck configuration, mass and dimension limitations, pressure and air temperature variations and the floor load factors must be taken into consideration by the shipper of the cargo. All aircraft have limited carrying capacity, and loading beyond the safety limit in terms of the mass and volume of the cargo is not permitted. The actual limitations vary from one type of aircraft to another.
To facilitate quicker and safer loading, airline personnel group all air cargo into larger units on pallets or containers. These are collectively known as Unit Load Devices or ULD's. ULD's play an important part in the loading and discharging of aircraft. The floor of an aircraft is equipped with roller beds for ease of movement of the ULD's. Since the introduction of Unit Load Devices into the air freight industry, cargo is discharged quicker and theft and damages have been greatly reduced.
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