Air Forwarding: Everything You Need to Know

When you think of cargo, you likely visualize massive ships carrying thousands of containers across the ocean.

But in many instances, cargo is sent by air — often right under your nose… Or airplane seat.

You probably also think of air cargo as a prohibitively expensive option. But in certain cases and with the right air freight forwarder, you could end up paying less to ship faster.

In this article, we will review exactly how that’s possible and why your next cargo shipment might just be airborne.



What is an Air (Freight) Forwarder?

A freight forwarder is an individual or a company that organizes and plans a shipment, getting cargo from a point of origin to a destination point.

While freight forwarders don’t physically move your cargo, they do assist in every facet of your shipment, simplifying the process and taking on the burden of communicating between all of the people and moving parts that are typically involved.

Some forwarders specialize in ocean freight, while others work specifically with air freight.

An air freight forwarder specializes in moving freight by air on either passenger aircrafts or specially designed cargo aircrafts. This specialization enables them to better understand the intricacies of air freight, create a relationship with the TSA, and, in many cases, provide better air rates.

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Why Do You Need an Air Forwarder?

International air cargo is heavily regulated. As such, many opt for a freight forwarder who works exclusively with air shipments.  

An air forwarder can help you navigate through all key freight documents, insurance, customs, and any turbulence you encounter along the way.

They can also ensure that your goods are packed to fit the non-traditional shape of an aircraft and effectively optimize the space you pay for.

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Is an Air Forwarder Cheaper than an Ocean Forwarder?

Air shipments are faster and more reliable than ocean shipments. As counterintuitive as it might seem, they can also be cheaper.

How is that possible?

The way prices are calculated for ocean and air shipments are fundamentally different. The cost of sending cargo on a ship is generally calculated by its volume. Conversely, the cost of sending cargo by air is generally calculated by its weight.

Additionally, ocean shipments commonly have minimum weights and measurements that must be met.

As such, large and heavy shipments are almost always cheaper to send by ocean, but smaller and lighter shipments can actually be cheaper to send by air.

The trick is to figure out whether your freight meets that happy medium.

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Calculate Air Freight Rates

The easiest way to know if air cargo is right for you is to get a broad picture of your options.

You can do this easily using our freight rate calculator.

Simply enter your dimensions and weight and get an instant estimate. You can also get live quotes directly on Freightos.

Read more about calculating freight forwarder costs and fees.

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Who are the Top Air Forwarders in the World?

Air freight is a fairly fragmented field, with the top ten air forwarders dominating only 39% of the market.

The top air freight forwarders have remained ahead of the pack for years:

  • DHL Global Forwarding
    In 2015, DHL Global Forwarding air freight revenue reached $5.4 billion dollars. In 2015, it moved 2.1 million tonnes of air freight, over 60% more than the next forwarder in line.
  • DB Schenker
    Headquartered in Germany, the freight giant employees nearly 100,000 employees around the world. In 2015, it saw $3.8 billion in air freight revenue.
  • Kuehne + Nagel
    Between ocean and air freight shipping, this company holds close to 10% of the freight market. IN 2015, air freight revenue reached $3.3 billion.
  • Panalpina
    Founded in 1936, the Swiss forwarder saw $2.5 billion in air freight revenue in 2015. It also has one Boeing 747, leased from Atlas Air Cargo, which it called “Spirit of Panalpina”.
  • Expeditors
    A relative newcomer, founded in 1979 in Seattle, Washington, this US forwarder had $2.51 billion in air freight revenue in 2015.

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