Air freight

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Military air freight

The term air freight includes all goods that are transported by air with an air waybill (" air pollution ").

No other mode of transport has achieved such high growth rates in transport services over the past 40 years as cargo aircraft . One of the reasons for this is that the division of labor in the world economy has become more intensive and the share of high-quality goods in foreign trade has increased.

Civil air freight has increased sharply since the 1960s. Around half of the world's air freight is transported on the lower decks by passenger planes , the other half by cargo planes . Air freight is handled at practically every airport (loading, reloading and unloading). The average size of passenger planes and cargo planes has increased. Military air freight was and is transported in so-called transport aircraft; whose era began in World War II. Some cargo and transport aircraft were developed or built for the purpose of being able to transport particularly large and heavy goods (details here and here ).

Advantages of air freight

Air freight container type AKH

The performance characteristics in air freight are:

  • Speed ​​- the aircraft offers the shortest transport time of all modes of transport on medium and long-haul routes .
  • Safety - here, too, the short transport duration is decisive, in addition to the independence from natural influences and vibrations during handling and transport.
  • Reliability - the flight plans are often adhered to to the minute, so that the shipment can usually be precisely timed.
  • Low capital tie-up costs - In the long term, air freight transport is cheaper because storage costs and waiting times are minimized or not incurred in the first place. Another advantage is the short capital commitment.

Due to these performance characteristics, a number of air freight goods have emerged, all of which are urgent:

  • Live animals, flowers and “exotic” fruits, newspapers and films
  • Fashion and seasonal goods, mostly textiles
  • Spare parts, scheduled shipments, airmail
  • Particularly high-quality goods, cargo that is sensitive to transport and at risk of theft
  • Relief supplies in the event of a disaster
  • important documents
  • Human organs as well as mortal remains

Disadvantages of air freight

  • Air freight is more expensive than transport on the ground (truck, train) or by sea freight
  • The pollutant - emissions are higher than other modes of transport

Legal basis

Since many countries are sometimes flown over when transporting air freight, various agreements are required in order to be able to fly over these countries unhindered. That is why a number of Western governments founded the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the mid- 20th century . Members are states that operate civil international air traffic and are eligible for membership in the UN . The ICAO is a subsidiary of the UN.

In addition, the ICAO concluded a joint agreement with the establishment of the agreement, which aims to coordinate the development and promotion of civil aircraft, international airports and joint air traffic control facilities , agreements to increase security in international air traffic and measures to ensure orderly economic growth and to ensure a meaningful division of labor among the international airlines . Finally, the ICAO established English as the uniform lingua franca in aviation .

The most important task of the ICAO is the regulation of international traffic rights, the so-called " freedom of the air ". The airspace above the land also belongs to the sovereign territory of a state. So even flying over another country requires its express permission. If you also want to land there and if passengers, luggage, freight and mail are to be dropped off and possibly also picked up, further agreements are necessary accordingly. According to the recommendations of the ICAO, the international traffic rights are mutually granted in a mutually binding manner between the governments.

The seven freedoms of aviation can be distinguished as follows:

  1. The right to fly over the territory of the contracting state without landing.
  2. The right to landings for non-commercial purposes (i.e. a right to technical landings such as fuel consumption, repairs, personnel changes, but not to drop off or pick up passengers, cargo and mail).
  3. The right to drop off passengers, cargo and mail picked up in the territory of the state of which the aircraft is a national.
  4. It is practically the reverse of the third freedom - namely the right to take passengers, freight and mail in the territory of the partner country if they are intended for the home country of the aircraft. Third and fourth freedom traffic is also referred to as “neighborhood traffic”.
  5. The right to carry passengers, cargo and mail to and from third countries. This means that aircraft from an airline based in country A are not only allowed to fly to countries B and C from their home country in commercial air traffic, but are also allowed to transport cargo between countries B and C. If countries B and C have their own airlines, they lose part of their traffic to the company in country A. However, the flight must start or end in the home country.
  6. It is a combination of the 3rd and 4th freedom, but the flight does not have to start or end in your home country.
  7. The right to operate traffic between third countries without connection to the home country. This is rarely the case in practice.

The right of the 5th freedom can only be exercised if it has been granted by both contracting states, i.e. in the example both by State B and by State C. Furthermore, the airline on which rights of the 5th freedom may be exercised must begin or end in the aircraft's home country. Cabotage : This is the right to carry passengers, mail and cargo between two or more airports within the territory of a foreign country. Cabotage law is also known as the 8th freedom. These so-called “freedoms of the air” only apply to scheduled air traffic.

Freedoms 1 and 2 are also called non-commercial traffic rights, and freedoms 3 to 5 are called commercial traffic rights.

In the European internal market, cabotage law for air transport applies to all air transport companies based in an EU member state; Unrestricted access to the US domestic market for EU airlines and vice versa has been decided ( Open Skies Agreement ).


Since the shipping documents in air freight must be uniform and the abbreviations used must be internationally understandable, the distribution of the freight costs paid at the airport of departure must be regulated and the containers standardized, international airlines have come together to regulate this, forming the IATA . The first goal of IATA is the standardization of all handling steps that come into consideration when transporting passengers and freight.

The main tasks are to be distinguished in the definition of uniform tariffs and the documents, the definition of guidelines for the in-flight service, the standardization of the free baggage allowance and the issue of guidelines for the approval of IATA agencies. Almost all world air traffic is operated according to the guidelines of the IATA. Airlines can only become members of IATA if they are approved by a state that can be selected in the UN and if they offer passenger or cargo traffic according to a published flight schedule.

IATA traffic areas

Since many airlines only have regional interests and in order to be able to take into account the economic characteristics of the various regions of the world, the IATA has divided the world into three conference areas (Traffic Conference Areas) . The leading airlines take part in all regional conferences, although participation is not compulsory.

One also speaks of the so-called IATA geography.

  • The first conference area includes Greenland, North America, Central America and South America as well as Hawaii.
  • The second conference area includes Europe, Africa and the geographic Middle East (with Iran, but also Egypt and Sudan as well as Cyprus)
  • Asia and Australia are in the third conference area.

IATA agencies

IATA has appointed freight forwarders as authorized air freight agencies worldwide . These have the task of representing the interests of the IATA airlines in the shipping industry.

Legal character of the air freight contract

The air freight contract, like any other contract of carriage, is a contract for work and services . From a purely legal point of view, the air freight contract is not bound to any specific form, so the contract can also be concluded orally. Cross-border air freight transportation is usually agreed with the air freight contract.

Applicable Law

In contrast to other modes of transport, there is no uniform international law for air freight transport.

It is important to check which of the following numerous international treaties applies:

  • the Warsaw Convention (WAK or WA), also known as the old Warsaw Convention, or WA 1929; or
  • the Hague Protocol (HP), also known as the new version of the Warsaw Convention, or WA 1955; or
  • called the Montreal Convention (MT), or MT 1999.

The regulations in the aforementioned international contracts are generally mandatory for the contracting parties to the air freight contract.

However, if the aforementioned contracts do not provide for any regulation or cannot be applied, the applicable national law must also be determined and its rules applied. In addition, the contractual conditions and, if applicable, general terms and conditions must be checked (e.g. the IATA Conditions of Carriage ( GTC ) or the conditions of carriage of an airline that is not an IATA member ("Non-IATA Carrier")).

Scope of the international treaties

The Montreal Convention (MT) applies to the signatory states.

According to the Warsaw Agreement (WAK) z. B. still liable for traffic with sub-Saharan countries.

In the case of contracts with states that have signed neither the WA (or one of the subsequent regulations) nor the MT, the applicable national liability law - which is yet to be determined - can also play a role in individual cases.



If the transported goods are damaged during air freight transport, cannot be fully located (damage to the substance) or if a delay has occurred (damage caused by delay), it must first be checked which law is applicable (see "Applicable law" above).

Liability principles

The principle of liability is

  • in the case of fault liability with suspected fault on the part of the air carrier (i.e. a reverse burden of proof , so to speak ),
  • with the MT, however, no-fault liability for damage to the substance, i.e. loss of or damage to the goods (Art. 18, 22 Paragraph 3 MT), fault liability for suspected fault in the event of damage caused by delay (Art. 19, 22 Paragraph 3 MT)

Limitations and Exclusions of Liability

As a rule, however, the air carrier is not liable for

  • Damage due to the nature of the goods
  • Damage due to poor packaging
  • Damage as a result of war
  • Damage due to sovereign action
  • Damage due to existing defects in the goods

The burden of presentation and proof of the existence of these circumstances lies with the air carrier (Art. 18 Para. 2 MT).

Contributory negligence on the part of the injured party is countered in a claim-reducing manner according to general rules (Art. 20 MT).

Liability period

The liability period begins with the acceptance of the goods by the air carrier (who undertakes to handle and transport the goods properly); this period ends with the handover to the recipient ( custody period ) (Art. 18 para. 3 MT).

Amount of liability

Warsaw Agreement

There is liability for damage to goods and property damage according to the Warsaw Agreement with 250 gold francs / kg. In the event of damage caused intentionally or recklessly, however, the aforementioned maximum liability limits are waived; unlimited liability then applies (Art. 25 WA).

Montreal Convention

According to the Montreal Convention (MT), liability is 22 SDRs per gross kilogram (as of 2020) for both substance and damage caused by delay (Art. 22 Paragraph 3 MT). In the event of damage caused intentionally or recklessly, the aforementioned maximum liability limits are nonetheless binding (reverse conclusion from Art. 22 Para. 5 MT)! However, an increase in the maximum liability amounts (up to and including a complete waiver by the air carrier of a maximum liability limit) would be permissible under Art. 25 MT, but not a reduction (cf. Art. 26 MT).

Complaint and exclusion periods

  • Complaints have to be made
    • in the case of recognizable damage immediately upon delivery (WA / MÜ),
    • in the case of undetectable substance damage within 7 days (WA) or 14 days (MT) in writing,
    • in the case of damage caused by delay, within 14 days (WA) or 21 days (MT) in writing.
  • According to Art. 29 WA as well as Art. 35 MC, all claims are to be asserted within 2 years at the latest ( preclusive periods !)


The air waybill ( AWB for short ) is required according to Art. 4 WA, according to Art. 4 MT any other means of presentation is also permitted. The AWB is an international transport document and is therefore usually issued in English (however, the other 5 world languages ​​of the UN or an expressly agreed language are also permitted). The functions of the air waybill include:

The AWB is not transferable and is not a value paper . The sender is responsible for the correctness of the information .


If several containers not as loadable that they can be distributed evenly on the plane in weight, containers are invited ballast to the trimming to ensure the aircraft. Receipt?

In some cases, passenger planes are also used as cargo planes, but no passenger is transported. The cargo (but only general cargo) is then placed on the covered seats. Receipt? Much of the air freight (22 percent of US air freight, around fifty percent in Europe) is not transported in its own cargo planes, but is taken in passenger planes.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Air freight  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Air Freight  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. Why air freight from Toulouse to Marsaille only lands at Cologne / Bonn airport. Greenpeace Magazine, No. 1, 1997.
  2. ^ " Transatlantic air traffic is being liberalized " - Der Standard, November 29, 2005
  3. in Germany: §§ 407 ff. Of the Commercial Code (HGB)
  4. Jens Flottau: Air Freight: Danger for Passengers? - February 26, 2006
  5. "According to the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Jan Mücke , it is even 60 percent in the industry as a whole ." - What about the security of air freight? - Tagesschau, November 1, 2010