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International Forwarding Association Blog » Specialized transportation » General and Special Cargo and Biological Substances Carried by Aircraft
air freight in Europe

General and Special Cargo and Biological Substances Carried by Aircraft

The main types of air freight in Europe are general and special cargo, the latter being shipped in accordance with the IATA Live Animals Regulations and IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations.

General Cargo

This category includes electronics, hardware and machinery, consumer and retail goods, and textiles. In general, all items that are not liquid fall in this category.


Special Cargo

A number of sub-classes are included, among which fragile and high value items, oversized cargo and heavy weight, and dangerous goods and hazardous materials. Dangerous goods transported by aircraft include arms and ammunition, weapons, and explosives. Valuable items that can be shipped are art collections, gold bullion, currency plates, and diamonds. Other examples of special cargo are tissue samples, organs, and human remains, live animals, and temperature controlled goods. The category of live animals includes both pets such as cats and dogs and wildlife species such as rhino, leopards, tigers, and dolphins. Sheep, cattle, and other livestock are also transported. Sensitive freight is only carried by licensed aircraft.

Some airlines also transport motor racing equipment, theatre and circus equipment, helicopters, and boats. Biological substances are a type of special cargo to which different regulations and requirements apply.

Biological Substances and Labelling and Packaging Requirements

Special regulations apply to category B biological substances or infectious agents that are incapable of causing fatal and life-threatening conditions and disability in animals and humans. Biological substances can be shipped internationally and fall under the International Special Commodities Program. Special packaging and marking requirements apply under ADR and IATA. When items are shipped with dry ice and fall in Category B, special shipment description, labeling, and marking requirements apply. The packaging has several components, including outer packaging, leak-proof secondary packaging, and leak-proof primary receptacle. It must display the sender’s and recipient’s address and name and the wording Biological Substance, Category B. Items that are in a liquid form pass a pressure differential test and must be accompanied by a IATA Shippers Declaration on Dangerous Goods.

Category A infectious substances differ in that agents can cause fatal and life-threatening diseases and disability. Examples of such agents are Yellow fever, West Nile virus, Variola virus, and Japanese encephalitis. They are assigned UN names and numbers such as ‘infectious substance, affecting animals only’ or ‘infectious substance affecting humans’. UN 2900, for example, is assigned on the basis of professional judgment, endemic local conditions, and symptoms and medical history of the source animal. Examples of category A infectious agents include Lumpy skin disease, Foot and mouth disease, and African swine fever virus.

Such specimen are collected by different methods, including tissue fluid swabs, blood components, and excreta and are shipped for disease prevention and treatment, investigation, diagnosis, and research. Agents include fungi, parasites, rickettsiae, viruses, and bacteria, the shipment of which requires a signed agreement. The labelling must display details such as infectious substance level, net quantity, UN number, and recipient’s and sender’s address and name.