Air Cargo Containers: Understanding the Basics

As we all know – air cargo containers are an indispensable part of moving cargo from one place to another. Read on to find out why air cargo containers are so important in air freight.

Air Cargo Containers: Understanding the Basics

The first cargo flight took off in 1910. Moving cargo through the air has come a long way since. As the name implies, air cargo is transporting goods via aircraft. It refers to items moved via commercial air carriers or charters. Cargo can be transported in air cargo containers, also known as air containers, unit load devices, or ULDs. Air cargo containers come in two types; pallet/net or enclosed containers.

✅ Types of Air Cargo Containers

Because of the variety of cargo transported via passenger airlines, cargo-only plants, and supercargo plants, different types of air cargo containers are required. Some of the options in air cargo container types include; Unit Load Devices or ULDs, pallets, and specialty containers.

✅ Air Cargo Containers

Air cargo container sizes vary depending on what’s being hauled. There is a full range of upper and lower deck containers available that offer ease of use regarding maximum volume and payload and low tare weight. As far as air cargo size limits go, the maximum air cargo box size for standard air freight is 96in x 125in or 2.44m x 3.15m.

✅ Unit Load Devices (ULDs)

A Unit Load Device (ULD) could be an aircraft container, an aircraft pallet, or a pallet net combination. These are aircraft parts that are removable and must adhere to strict civil aviation requirements. A ULD must provide adequate protection for aircraft systems and structures. ULDs are considered expensive assets that require adequate handling at all times.

✅ Pallets

An air cargo pallet is a large flat-base aluminum stand with rims that lock onto net lugs. Regarding air cargo pallet size, there’s no shortage of options. So, what is the maximum pallet size for air cargo? The maximum pallet size for air cargo is 96 inches x 125 inches. The standard pallet has a loadable base of 304cm x 210cm. There are also 10ft and 20ft air freight pallets and heavy-duty air freight pallets for heavier loads.

✅ Air Cargo Pallet Nets

A cargo net is usually rectangular or square but can also be round. It is made of thick rope with cinch ropes that extend from the corners or the edges. A comprehensive range of air cargo nets is available that provide safe and cost-effective cargo restraint solutions.

Various types of air cargo packaging are also used to transport goods via air, such as wood packaging, plastic packaging, and cardboard boxes.

✅ Standardization of Air Cargo Containers

In an ever-complex post-pandemic world, adopting standardized air cargo containers could be the answer for companies and freight forwarding businesses looking to reach their full potential. This is mainly because adopting a standardized approach can simplify important processes while reducing costs. This allows airlines to operate seamlessly with cargo agents, freight forwarders, ground service crews, and all other stakeholders.

✅ Loading and Unloading Air Cargo Containers

Air cargo containers are loaded and unloaded in various ways. Loading the cargo onto an aircraft is a specialist aspect of logistics. Since loading and unloading air cargo containers have a fair share of challenges, it pays to hire the best cargo handlers. Using a high degree of standardization, as in ULDs and containers, means that airports can optimize their processes to reach maximum efficiency.

✅ Temperature Controlled Containers

An active cool container monitors and controls the temperature and is key to transporting pharmaceuticals and fresh produce. Temperature-controlled containers can maintain their temperature at a certain level throughout the transportation of their contents. The temperature is generally controlled at 15 degree Celsius or 25 degree Celsius, but that may vary depending on what’s being transported.

✅ Traceability and Security

Air cargo visibility data can help reduce waste due to inefficient processes and minimize the risk of loss. Air cargo container providers use the latest technologies that include information for static goods and cold chain cargo, temperature monitoring, and other key information such as light exposure and humidity levels. Real-time air cargo monitoring also includes end-to-end coverage (ETA alerts, proactive alerts) of air cargo containers for better traceability and security.

✅ Air Cargo Container Limitations and Challenges

While the volume of air freight is increasing, some limitations constantly challenge businesses in the industry. Some limitations include flight delays and cancellations, higher fuel costs, increasing taxes, and keeping up with new technological developments for a smoother process.

The e-AWB, the electronic air waybill, was adopted in January 2019 as the default contract for the carriage of all air cargo freight. This was adopted as an ongoing process to streamline the entire supply chain by going digital. While this eliminated the numerous errors which occur due to manual processes, more needs to be done in terms of technology and support.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, more stringent security policies are being adopted for global trade, but there’s still a level of disparity when it comes to the global security standards and how they are being applied globally.

There are also some challenges that can’t be solved by simply adopting new technologies, such as oil prices, trade protectionism, and growing security threats. Global cargo handlers and air cargo container providers will need to work together to find plausible solutions to these issues.


The air cargo market size is estimated to be worth US$270 billion, which only goes to show how important air cargo is for the transportation of goods and equipment. Air cargo volumes have risen by an average of 18% year-on-year.

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