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How We Calculate Air Freight

Over the years, there have been many trial and errors in airfreight calculations, and today most airlines have settled on a basic standard.  Any cargo will have an actual weight, which is the weight of the item or items after they have been packaged.  A dimensional weight is also derived.  This weight refers to the average weight of an object a certain size.  For example a very large box may contain foam.  It would be unprofitable for the airlines to charge a customer based on the actual weight, when generally a box of that size would attract a larger revenue because generally the weight for an item that size would be much greater.


ITEM A = 10 x 14 x12 (inches), actual weight of 5 kgs.

To calculate the dimensional weight of ITEM A

  1. Calculate the volume. In this case, the volume = 10 x 14 x 12 = 1680
  2. Then divide the volume by 366 for the dimensional weight in kilograms or 166 for the dimensional weight in pounds.

Following these steps, 1680/366 = 4.59 kgs

In this scenario, the airline would charge based on the actual weight because it is greater than the dimensional weight.



ITEM B = 20 x 12 x 18 (inches), actual weight = 9 kgs

Following the instructions above, the dimensional weight = 4320/366 = 11.8 kgs.

In this scenario, the airline would charge you based on the dimensional weight because it is greater than the actual weight.

So it is safe to say that the airline would charge you based on the dimensional weight, or the actual weight, whichever is greater.  When the actual and dimensional weights are determined, the airline would charge a rate per kilogram, a fuel charge and security charge also per kilogram.  These rates vary depending on what airline is being used, the destination and the size of the package.  Usual larger cargo attracts a lower weight rate per kilogram.

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Air Freight, a brief history

Airlines started carrying airfreight in 1911. Aircrafts at this time were not primarily designed for cargo and at the time carried only “air mail”, which consisted of mail and small packages. As time advanced, the benefits of airfreight began to be realised, aircraft manufacturers began designing and building vessels dedicated to cargo. During World War I and World War II, various governments saw the necessity of dedicated air cargo vessels to transport troops and materials to war zones. Postwar Europe fuelled major developments in the air cargo industry.

During this “Cold War” period, a mass mobilisation of air vessels was undertaken by Europe to supply food and supplies to the citizens of West Berlin due to the blockades created by the Soviet Union.

The demand for airfreight having grown exponentially from 1911 spurred many aircraft manufacturers to experiment with custom built cargo aircraft. Today, although a market exists for custom made cargo aircraft, the majority of cargo transported via air is transported on containerized passenger planes. Additionally, it is more practical for airlines to modify and convert passenger planes that are no longer deemed competitive in the airline industry, to dedicated cargo vessels.

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