While it is generally more expensive than other methods because of the logistics, sending goods by air freight is a great option if you have a tight deadline or your cargo is highly valuable or doesn’t weigh much.
We’ve been shipping goods by sea and land since ancient times but transportation using air freight is a relatively recent addition, for obvious reasons.
Early 20th Century
With the invention of the aircraft, things began to move pretty quickly, and competition led to greater innovation, particularly when it came to transporting goods by air.
You may be surprised to learn that the first cargo-only flight took place as far back as 1910. It involved a 70-mile trip from Dayton to Columbus carrying some 200 pounds of silk. That may not seem a large cargo by today’s standards, with even small planes able to carry up to 12.5 tonnes, but at the time it was near enough a miracle of science and technology.
The plane was built by the Wright Brothers and was called the Model B. What made this first cargo trip more interesting was that it was achieved racing against a train travelling to the same destination. The Model B was the clear winner, completing the flight in under an hour, a time which also broke the airspeed record of the time.
The potential for using air travel to deliver mail was also important to the burgeoning industry at this time. In both the UK and India in 1911, planes were used to transport packages and letters. It was a short-lived experiment, however, as bad weather often caused problems for the fragile aircraft.
The Roaring 20’s
As we move into the 1920s, aviation began to develop dramatically, with more robust aircraft capable of carrying both passengers and freight at the same time.
There were some wonderfully eccentric combinations during this time – one flight between London and Paris in 1919 not only carried one passenger with their luggage but cargo including grouse to be delivered to a restaurant and leather for a shoemaker.
As in many other eras where there has been conflict, the start of World War II also coincided with an increase in innovation, not least in the aviation sector where scientists were working hard to build jet engines. Planes were now an essential tool for not only transporting weapons and supplies but troops as well.
By the end of the decade, the International Air Transport Association was created, and goods were beginning to be ferried all across the world. It wasn’t until the late 60s, however, when Boeing developed the 747 that large cargos could be managed regularly.
Air Freight Surges in the 1990s and Beyond
The need to get goods from A to B, anywhere in the world, in the shortest time possible, became more important as we moved into the 1990s. The rise of today’s parcel carrying giants such as FedEx and DHL meant that any company or individual could pay a competitive price to get the goods abroad in less than a day or two.
Today, literally millions of tonnes of cargo are transported to every corner of the world every day. This is managed largely by freight forwarding companies and small, light packages are often cheaper to transport using air freight than by sea or land.