Air Cargo Density Research

By Van de Reyd & Wouters

An ongoing discussion exists in the air cargo industry on the densities of the commodities. It is heard throughout this industry that the voluminous cargo is getting more and more important. However, all pricing is done strictly on weight1. For voluminous cargo, this volume is then converted by a standard factor of 166.67 kg/m3 (1 metric ton divided by 6 cubic meter – the “1/6 rule”) to the so-called chargeable weight, and if this chargeable weight is larger than the actual weight, all pricing is done using this chargeable weight. It is the goal of this project to determine if the actual densities more or less correlate with the currently used conversion factor. However, to give a full analysis, historical data would be necessary. Since this data mostly unavailable during the course of this study, the results only provide a current status of the densities.

The results both for commodity analysis indicate the current real-life standard density of the year 2004 densities is extremely category dependant. The major commodity categories range from a density of 135 kg/m3 for live animals to 495 kg/m3 for metal products, with a wide variation of categories in between these two extremes. However, the most categories, eighteen out of twenty-five to be precise, are situated in the broad 150-250 kg/m3 region. From the above it should be clear that a large variation exists between commodity categories and extrapolating a general rule, such as a 1/5 or 1/6 density rule (1 ton equals 5 or 6 m3) is almost impossible. However, if the conclusion would be based on the statistical parameters of the entire database, a reasonable estimate would be 185 – 200 kg/m3, based solely on the commodity analysis.

The second part of this report, dedicated to ULD and aircraft analysis gives another perspective on densities. The analysis whole pallets and containers, each consisting of many different shipments (mostly different commodities on one pallet), indicate the differences between the most frequently occurring ULD’s (PAG, AKE and PMC) are negligible with densities clearly in the 190-200 kg/m3 region. There seems to be one exception, namely the difference between lower deck loaded ULD’s and main deck ULD’s: main deck ULD’s have a much lower density in the order of 160 kg/m3, insinuating the less importance to stack shipments as dense as on the lower deck. The aircraft subpart could only be done of a limited number of full freighter aircraft. From the results, full freighters are mostly volume restricted. The volume usage amounts to 85%, while only 70% of the maximum weight capacity is used.

There are a couple important recommendations, namely the use of historic data and the fact that periodic follow up research projects could provide a true trend analysis. Also from the results, it could be viable to use different density rules for different density classes of commodities. Also a sample test for the pallet build-up efficiency compared with the water volumes of the pallets could provide more insight into the true densities of pallets. Finally a prediction factor on cargo level to determine which aircraft fits best on each route could also be very interesting.

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One Response to Air Cargo Density Research

  1. Tom Spane says:

    Where can I find the complete study?

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