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International Forwarding Association Blog » Air freight in Europe » Uses of Air Freight: Shipping Time-Sensitive and High-Value Commodities

Uses of Air Freight: Shipping Time-Sensitive and High-Value Commodities

Air freight is expensive compared to other modes of transportation and thus is limited by cost. Freight rates vary between €1.25 and €3.75, which makes it 12 – 16 times more expensive than sea transport and 4 – 5 times more costly than road freight. For this reason, it is usually used for items that are time-sensitive or of high value, including perishable seafood products and agricultural produce, electronics, consumer goods, fashion clothing, pharmaceuticals, documents, and production samples.

Air transport is also used for emergency shipments and just-in-time production as well as for exports from developing countries, including commodities such as fresh vegetables and fruits, electronic parts, and cut flowers.


Uses of Air Freight

Shipping Samples

Air freight is typically used to transport technical drawings, designs, and product patterns. Samples and initial prototypes are sent by manufacturers to customers for approval before starting full-scale production. Air transport is also used to ship samples for promotional campaigns and for testing.


Air freight is a good choice when small volumes need to be shipped to new markets. It is also used to transport products with a short shelf-life and commodities that require cold chains. Diversification is particularly important for landlocked countries with uncertain or complex clearance procedures and unreliable transportation networks.


Older and smaller airports usually have more basic warehousing facilities but this doesn’t have a significant impact on shipping as they are not places for storage and distribution. Cargo is not kept at airports. Imports are typically fast-moving or high-value commodities while exports include time-sensitive goods.

Modern airports have warehouses with spacious areas for collecting and segregating of cargo, building pallets, inspection, and scanning. Some warehouses also have facilities for storage of high-value items. Where all components are present – warehousing, cargo handling, inspection equipment, and efficient customs procedures – cargo is typically shipped within a couple of hours.

Emergency Services

Air transport is often used in times of natural calamities such as floods or avalanches when other modes of transport cannot be operated. It can be used to ship essential commodities such as medications and food and to do the relief work.


Situations in Which Air Fright Is the Best Option

As a rule, air transport is a good choice for small shipments, perishable items, and high-value commodities. It is also used for the following types of goods:

  • Accessories and machinery for medical use
  • Artworks
  • Luxury products
  • Live animals
  • Pharmaceutical products, vaccines, and drugs
  • Plants
  • Materials and samples for events and fairs
  • Spare parts for the aerospace industry and for land vehicles
  • Intercontinental urgent mail and parcels
  • Urgent goods

Dangerous goods are also shipped by air, subject to special procedures and safety precautions. Examples of hazardous goods are corrosives, flammable solids and liquids, radioactive materials, and infectious and toxic substances. When dangerous items are transported, airlines may require that shippers provide details such as packing group number, registrant information, emergency phone numbers, and regulatory information, including EX numbers, special permits, and DOT exemptions.