Airfreight Charters – What to Know When Your Cargo’s Got to Go

Unless you or your company has arranged to charter an aircraft for cargo in the past, it is likely that you may be unfamiliar with some of the benefits and risks of arranging a charter for your cargo, or even what a cargo aircraft charter even is. This post will provide a brief introduction to cargo aircraft charter to present another freight solution option should you need it now or sometime in the future – the focus will be on charters arranged for the transport of cargo – as opposed to passenger charters.

A quick overview of what this post will cover:

  • Definitions
  • Cost to charter a flight
  • Why arrange charter aircraft
  • Common Misconceptions
  • Advantages of Cargo Charters
  • Other Costs and Risks


In general, a chartered air flight is can be defined as a non-scheduled air flight which has been chartered to transport cargo between two or more locations. A charter aircraft can be reserved with custom criteria, such as time, distance, and location, with or without a pilot and without the same restrictions posed by commercial airlines. A flight plan must still be submitted and approved by the FAA (US) or similar governing body or agency in other countries which is responsible for that.

There are many diverse types of charter aircraft. From smaller, narrow body, regional type of aircrafts, to the more full-sized freighter cargo aircraft only charters. For cargo aircraft charters, one of the most popular is the 747 aircraft, due maximum capacity. For this aircraft the standard maximum capacity, six hundred cubic meters; 100,000 kgs.

Cost to charter a flight

At minimum, the price for the charter flight will include the aircraft, crew, fuel, ground handling and aircraft insurance. Full details of inclusions and exclusions can vary from charter to charter and will be defined on the charter quotation and final charter agreement. Most importantly the charter quote and agreement will define a specific time and date.

Why consider a cargo aircraft charter?

Access to Airfreight Capacity - The ability to secure additional sources of much needed aircraft capacity during times of market peaks, congestion, and disruption.

Cargo Capacity per flight - Depending on the size of the shipment you are looking to move, it may be necessary, desired, or required to move the shipment in one entire lot. There may also be cargo size factors (weight and or height) which would make it difficult or prohibitive to move on commercial aircraft flights.

Guaranteed flight schedule and transit of your urgent good - With bookings made with regular cargo flights there is no guaranteed movement of your cargo in one aircraft nor that it will move on the flight originally desired or schedule. Depending on the size of the shipment it is likely that the shipment could be split over multiple flights. So, if you have six hundred cubic meters, this could feasibly be split over six to ten flights.

Common Misconceptions

  • “I chartered the flight, it goes when I go, when I am ready!" – Once there is an agreed flight plan between you and the charterer, there usually is little to no room to adjust that schedule once committed to. The charter cost is non-refundable if that flight is missed for any reason, even outside of the control of the customer. If your cargo is not ready, you will lose the charter space and face penalty that can be up to the full amount of the agreed to charter price.
  • Chartering an aircraft will reduce overall costs - Many think, "Oh, I’m paying for the whole thing, ultimately, I’m going to get a better buying price". This is not necessarily the case, and especially true during times of market disruption
  • That the charter can maximize the full utilization of the aircraft. 100% optimization of the space on the aircraft is not possible regardless of the size of the cargo. Depending on the aircraft, the load factor could be impacted by the cargo size, weather conditions, fueling points, and ultimately pilot approval. Typically, a maximum utilization of charter aircraft capacity would be more in the range of 85-95%.

Cargo Aircraft Charter Advantages

Scheduling - When you charter an aircraft, you can arrange a flight itinerary suited to your needs rather than to the airline’s schedule.

Flexibility - When shipping using a commercial airline, you have an extremely limited choice of airports. Arranging a charter aircraft provides many additional options on routing and the ability to reach destinations that are not accessible with a commercial jet. Access to more airports: reaching under-serviced locations, allowing your cargo to arrive closer to its destination.

Shipment Integrity and Security – Depending on the charter agreement, your shipment will be arranged to move all at one time, which means much less handling than if it is being handled over multiple shipments.

Other Costs and Risks

Payment up Front - Typically, payment for the charter works where you put a down payment, and that down payment is refundable up to a certain time in many cases, in some cases not, depending on how hot the market is. After a certain period, though, as you get closer to the flight date, that original down payment is no longer reimbursable and then the remaining balance is due. And that remaining balance is due again upfront before the cargo even departs.

“No refunds” - There is little margin for error once the charter is committed to. Every day that the charter aircraft is sitting on the ground, it is losing a lot of money. So, in the event you have missed the flight for whatever reason, whether it is your own fault, the supplier's fault, the trucker's fault, customs' fault, government’s fault, you will not receive a refund for the charter aircraft.

Types of Products and Situations Well Suited for Charter Airfreight

  • Time sensitive Cargo - Hard deadline cargo that needs to ship and arrive on a specific date and time.
    • New product launches/releases – apple iPhone launches
    • Emergency items- Like the PPE
    • Humanitarian aid or other.
  • Shipments from and/or to destinations that are not regularly served by schedule commercial airlines
  • Cargo that needs additional security and or “white glove” handling.

Depending on your cargo, shipment and company needs – having the ability to access cargo aircraft space can provide you additional options especially in markets when speed, capacity and cargo integrity are critical.

Whether you have a one-time emergency shipment or have a need for a short or longer-term charter project program - we can help! To get started contact your local Laufer sales or customer service representative or email us at to find out more.