Air Transportation of Perishables- A Growing Segment

December 22, 2017

A large and growing segment of the air cargo market is temperature-sensitive cargo, such as pharmaceuticals, fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. Transportation of perishable food by air offers considerable advantages for a year-round supply of perishable food in regions that are distant from the harvesting or production site. Yet air transportation of perishable food remains limited because of the high economic and environmental costs of this mode of transportation.

Nevertheless, air transportation is required for high-value perishable food and perishable food with a short shelf-life that have to arrive at their destination quickly. Air transportation may become a more significant link in the cold chain worldwide, as the overall amount of goods transported by air, after a few years of stagnation or decrease, is once again increasing.

There is also a risk that perishable food will freeze or suffer chilling injuries in situations where the pressure is not controlled in the cargo hold of the plane. Fruits and vegetables native to tropical or subtropical regions are particularly at risk.

A survey of the air transportation industry indicated that the majority of the complaints filed regarding perishable food are related to bad odors, poor color or texture, and rotted products.

These issues are generally related to inadequate temperatures and support the need for better temperature management during air transportation of perishable food. To prevent some of the issues mentioned above, it is increasingly common for lucrative industries to arrange for charter planes to transport perishable foods to their destination. Moreover, advances in refrigeration systems, such as the development of active temperature-controlled ULDs during the past decade, have enhanced the ability of key stakeholders to ensure unbroken cold chains.

Tips for Shipping Air Cargo

•  Proper identification is important: Fresh shipments should be clearly labeled as perishable.

•  To better preserve your shipment, place coolants on the top and bottom of the cargo.

• Be aware that dry ice is classified as a dangerous good—be sure to comply with all regulations.

•  Perishables should be packed carefully to endure at least 72 hours of transit time.


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