Air Freight - The Evolution
Updated: Mar 11
air . freight / ‘erfrāt / - the transportation of goods by aircraft.
The world’s first “cargo only” flight took place on November 7, 1910 from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio. The Wright Model B aircraft was carrying 200 pounds of silk for the grand opening of a store. The flight was officially documented at taking 57 minutes to travel 65 miles, a world record for speed at the time, although some reports note this flight time at 61 minutes.
This flight was also the first recorded multimodal transport since the commodity was carried via car from the airfield to the consignee in Columbus. In the early 1920’s air cargo began to take off as entrepreneurs quickly realized that one-piece valuables could be sent by air much faster than railroads or shipping companies of that era.
The progressive evolution of the air freight industry has played a vital role in the continued adaptation of international transportation management on a comprehensive scale and continues to grow on a year over year basis. From the first cargo flight in 1910 to granular visibility platforms accessible today and implemented for wide-reaching operational management, the air freight industry will continue to grow, adapt, and evolve on a residual basis – per industry wide standards.
Historical Evolutions of Air Freight Service Offerings
Modern air freight neglected to grow as rapidly as what the industry had anticipated. For years, air import and export made up a very small portion of air traffic despite the fact that there were airlines specializing in cargo only flights. This delay in forecasted growth saw promise once the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 lifted limitations on the air freight industry as a whole. Prior to these amendments, there were strict guidelines that limited the amount of cargo an air freight could transport. There were also regulations on the relative propinquity of airports to destination drops.
The rise of the internet in the early 1990’s could be held primarily responsible for the sudden growth and expansion of air freight as a main player in the supply chain industry. In 1992, FedEx sent software to its customers that enabled them to track their shipments from their desk top computers – a game changer in the shipping industry. The internet essentially gave validity to air freight by making it more accessible and fundamentally more reliable. Airlines and freight forwarders now have the ability to offer their customers real-time tracking status and booking options, and in a technologically advanced world with a lessening attention span, “real-time” updates are essential. The industry is currently implementing additional digital actions such as the electronic airway bill.
Single-factor efficiency assessments indicate that the US Air Freight industry has significantly improved in areas of labor and capital but fell short in fuel productivity developments. FedEx and UPS have seen the smallest improvements over the past two decades, whereas all other cargo and combination carriers have advanced exponentially since 1998. Cargo carriers, or cargo only carriers, operate on a cargo only service, as the name implies. Combination carriers are airlines that offer passenger and cargo services.
Passenger airlines began finding it lucrative to carry “belly cargo”, or cargo stored under the main deck of an airplane. Worth noting, cargo can only be placed on passenger flights if the shipper is on the Known Shipper Management System list constructed by Homeland Security – even still, 50% of all air freight is sent this way.
Also, worth noting is the unpredictability and immediate affect that global pandemics can have on the industry. Take the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak for instance. While quick responses to supply chain disruptions often help to mitigate any negative offset, the interruption still remains. These risks are part of air freight's continued growth and responsive nature within the industry.
With the predictable rise and widespread acceptance of technology, we may eventually be operating in a supply chain world of electronic documents, automated procedures, and drone piloted air freights. As a matter of fact, Natilus, a company based in San Jose, California is working on the launch of its first drone prototype to be used for air cargo, while Amazon is set to rollout same day delivery services on all orders due to the expansion and thorough implementation of fulfillment center locations nationwide.
There seems to be an underlying race, of sorts, fueling the progression to cloud based initiatives, online visibility management, and comparative oversight on a shipment to shipment basis. We are beginning to see softwares and other notable SaaS programs implemented on a wide-reaching platform throughout the air freight industry as a whole.
We observe the surge and adaptive integrations of new technologies on a near daily basis. This hockey stick growth is conclusive of future predicators thus essentially highlighting forecasted indicators that directly affect your business’s scalability and profitable longevity.
In a word: Visibility.
Visibility is the new operational norm in direct regards to progressive air freight evolution and the comprehensive management of elaborate supply chains on a global level. Having the transparent accessibility to manage shipments on a granular level will be indicative of air freight optimization.
Are your air freight shipments on the right track? Partnering with the right International Transportation management team could make or break your company’s continued success.
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