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Cargo Handling Services

People may be familiar with the concept of air cargo, but there are many unknowns about what air cargo handling services are really like. Whilest companies like FedEx, UPS and DHL may be the most visible air courier companies, the air cargo industry is much more complex than just a few brands.

In addition to the three big American cargo companies, there are a number of companies that focus specifically on air cargo handling, either on behalf of other companies or on their own. Companies like Cargolux, Polar Air Cargo and Atlas Air offer global shipping services that rank among the largest operations in the world. These carriers offer their own shipping services by leasing spots on their own planes to customers, but they can also offer shipping services to other courier companies.  Atlas Air, for example, leases its aircraft to operate on behalf of Amazon Prime Air, while FedEx has a contract with the United States Postal Service.

These dedicated cargo airlines have capacities to ship millions of packages per year, and they can also work with oversized and special cargo like cars, military equipment, hazardous chemicals and pharmaceutical products. Many estimate they will play a key role in the distribution of a potential coronavirus vaccine, which could be approved in the United States as early as mid-December.

A less-visible aspect of the air cargo industry is the cargo services offered by passenger airlines. Some passenger carriers – like Qatar Airways – operate their own dedicated cargo planes. But many others, including well-known carriers like American Airlines and British Airways, often carry cargo in the belly holds of their passenger planes. They take advantage of the extra space in their aircraft to ship goods around the world and hire employees to focus just on cargo operations.

As a side note, it is notable that, during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a drop in cargo capacity around the world even as cargo carriers increase operations and passenger airlines fly cargo-only services, and it’s exactly for this reason. Fewer people are flying, so fewer planes are flying passenger routes, and the cargo capacity usually afforded by these passenger airlines has been lost.

Passenger airlines offer high-quality service on par with cargo airlines, and many do have long term contracts with customers to handle cargo. And, just as cargo airlines operate large equipment, passenger carriers’ cargo arms can carry special packages as well. While there are stricter rules on carrying certain cargo, like lithium-ion batteries, on passenger planes for safety reasons, passenger airlines often carry unique items like pets and even caskets for soldiers killed in action.

Cargo handling is a key aspect of the modern world. It moves essential items efficiently, relatively cheaply and pretty quickly. Developments in cargo handling allow airlines and customers to track their packages in real-time, allowing airlines to constantly coordinate their services and giving customers the peace of mind of knowing where their packages are at all times. Air cargo services are truly a fascinating feature of our modern economy.

This article is sponsored by Flightworx, one of the industry’s leaders in flight planning, operations and management, deliveries and maintenance, ground handling, and numerous other facets of the flight support field. Visit their website to learn more.

John McDermott
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