The invention of the airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright brought man’s desire to fly into reality. Shortly after their historical flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, those promoting aviation began searching for feasible and lucrative uses for the airplane.
Today, planes serve not only as a quicker alternative for travelers all around the world; they are also responsible for the movement of millions of packages daily.
The First Air Freight
On November 7, 1910, a delivery race took place between an express train and a Wright Model B aeroplane (as they were called at that time.) The cargo consisted of 10 bolts of silk. The silk traveled 65 miles from Dayton to a retail store in Columbus, Ohio, for the store’s grand opening. Pilot Philip Parmelee successfully flew the valuable load in 57 minutes, which proved to be faster than travel by train.
This was the very first “cargo only” flight, as it was strictly commissioned for transporting product from point A to point B. Since the silk was delivered from the aircraft to the store by automobile, it also was the first example of multimodal transportation.
Airplanes used to carry cargo back in the early 1900’s were not large or sturdy enough to carry substantial amounts of freight. Thus, mail and small packages were the primary loads transported at that time.
In 1918, regular airmail service began between Washington D.C. and New York City. Air shipping of freight joined airmail service in the 1920’s thanks to the formation of several new airlines. Their cargo was primarily high priority mechanical parts or merchandise including jewelry, high-fashion clothing, movie reels, and pharmaceuticals. These items needed to be received quickly to meet critical deadlines.
The Upsurge of All-Cargo Flights
When larger planes became available after World War II, cargo operations increased, and several all-cargo companies were founded. The fuselage of the airplane was used to carry everything from frozen foods, miscellaneous perishables, construction equipment, automobile parts, and even complete cars. Pressurized cargo planes were utilized to transport livestock.
Established passenger carriers began to realize the financial potential of air freight. They started their own cargo departments and began running all-freight flights to compete with the all-cargo airlines. Since the passenger airlines had established facilities and routes, they had lower fixed costs to transport cargo.
Further tapping into the profitability of air freight, passenger airlines created a secondary market for themselves. They did this by carrying cargo in the lower deck of a scheduled passenger plane. Today, nearly half of all air cargo is transported in the baggage hold (or “belly”) of a passenger aircraft.
Air Freight Today
The design and production of the Boeing 747 transformed the air cargo industry by allowing full pallets to be transported within the cargo hold of the wide-body aircraft. In turn, the launch of FedEx, UPS and other full-service, all-cargo airlines contributed greatly to the increased volume of air freight, with each company operating its own fleet of cargo aircraft.
Unquestionably, the eruption of global e-commerce has had the greatest impact on the air freight industry. Companies like Amazon, eBay, Target, and WalMart allow consumers to shop online from the comfort of their own home and have their purchases delivered directly to them in as little as one day. This movement of goods from one country to another, and ultimately to the buyer is now an established business practice.