Air Freight Containers and Organizations Who Manage Them

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The word containers in the transport industry is commonly used for cargo shipments via ocean vessels to readily distinguish them from air freight containers which are more commonly referred to in business lingo as ULD or “unit Load Device”.   

Air freight containers or ULDs are classified as either lower or upper deck containers. The lower deck containers are structured in a way that will conform to the plane’s curvature hence they generally have smaller dimensions as far as their bases are concerned. The most common type of air freight containers are the lower deck types since most air freight cargo are transported in commercial passenger flights.       

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or C-TPAT for Air Freight Container Security

When it comes to matters of providing security to air freight containers while in transit, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or C-TPAT requires that all cargo containers entering the US from all international points of origins or sources whether by air or sea, should bear the high-strength C-TPAT security seals. Careful compliance with this requirement presents less time involved for customs inspection which makes the process time-saving for both the Customs Border Patrol and the air freight operator.      

The Role of Air Freight Forwarders in Handling ULD or Air Freight Containers

Air freight forwarders act as intermediaries between the air carrier and the shipper. They are in charge of receiving the shipment at the air carrier’s loading or docking points to facilitate the processing of the required documents related to the freight shipments, including payment of tariffs. They will provide the transport that will deliver the air freight cargo to its final destination or to another loading point.

The Role of the International Air Transport Association or IATA  

The International Air Transport Association or IATA is an organization responsible for setting the standards and required details regarding air freight containers or ULD used for shipment. Manufacturers or suppliers of air freight containers have to see to it that all such standards and requirements by the IATA are met. Air carriers may have their containers customized but certain aspects of the standard features are basically adhered to especially matters concerning LD-designatied sizes. Here are some of the basic standard requirements for ULD or air freight containers:

Container Size and Type – In determining whether the air freight container conforms to the IATA standards, the ULD will be marked with three letter codes to indicate the three key characteristics that the container should possess.

The first letter will indicate the IATA certification or non-certification as to the container’s airworthiness, including its acceptability as a structural unit fitted with required refrigeration and thermal control. The certification indicates the inclusion or non-inclusion of pallets or igloo assembly. Knowing the significance of the first letter used in the three letter codes will inform interested parties regarding the suitability of the air freight container in relation to its use.     
The second letter used in three letter key code will indicate the base dimension of the ULD and are detailed in a specific listing as to the equivalent base dimension standard regarding each of the second letter code.

The third letter in the three letter key code indicates the classification of each unit that will describe the container’s contour and fork lift capacity. The descriptions are actually highly technical but are all considered essential for the air freight container’s suitability and security when used as an air cargo utility.  

Manufacturers of air freight containers, air carriers, and shippers make use of IATA’s ULD Manual as their primary source of information with regard to technical information as far as specifications of the containers are concerned.

Having a brief idea as to how air freight containers are deemed suitable for your air freight shipments can help determine if your shipment is being handled with utmost professionalism in accordance with the industry’s standards.

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