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Air Freight VS. Sea Freight: Which shipping mode is right for your cargo?

The difference between the two most common modes of international shipping- air freight and sea freight may seem too straightforward but logistics experts know that underneath these terms are intricate series of processes that move the global trade. 

Part of building supply chain resiliency is having some foundational understanding of the global shipping conditions. Using this as the base, you can design a better supply chain strategy and decision-making process. For lean businesses that do not have yet the luxury to dedicate an in-house team to track this aspect of their business, adopting an existing strategy through a 3PL or freight forwarding partner is the recommended starting point.

So, how do you know which shipping mode is right for your cargo?  

Here are several factors that set the difference between air freight and sea freight.

Air cargo Vs. Sea cargo

Speed of Transit

For time-sensitive items, air freight is undeniably the shipping solution to go for. The capability of air carriers to quickly cope and adjust to delays and disruptions contributes to faster transit compared to that of ocean freight. For context and comparison, a shipment from China to the USA can reach within 5 to 7 days via air, while it might take 30 to 40 days via sea.  

Like other shipping methods, air freight is not without some delays that can be due to several reasons from sudden and uncontrollable bad weather conditions to technical or documentation glitches. Despite that, air freight is still very much flexible when it comes to rescheduling charter flights. 

Cost and Capacity

An advanced and informed strategy is very beneficial for businesses as it gives leeway to opt for a more cost-effective, albeit slower option which is ocean freight. Lower costs for this mode of transport can be directly attributed to its larger value capacity that can accommodate small, consolidated products to ODC, bulk or heavy shipments with long shelf life.

Nowadays, despite record-high costs for air cargo, especially during peak seasons, businesses are still increasingly opting for air freight as cross-border trade strengthens and more goods are being consumed all over the world, thus more shelves have to be restocked a lot often.

Efforts to optimize our ocean lanes still have a long way to go before they can catch up with the constant disruptions and bottlenecks in ocean freight. This brings an opportunity for the air freight sector as prices for air cargo are becoming more competitive as we are surpassing the challenges of the pandemic.

Other facets of freight solutions

Another benefit of sending shipments through air cargo is security. Due to some risks associated with flying passengers and other goods, airlines have set stricter security regulations including the need to acquire a Dangerous Goods Certificate for products. 

In addition to safety and security, one of the progressively becoming important factors for consumers and businesses is the factor of sustainability measured in carbon footprint.

According to IATA, the air cargo sector represents 2% of the global carbon emissions. The sector is pushing efforts to achieve greener operations using strategies that will eventually reduce fuel consumption through optimization of weight load which includes investing in lightweight aircraft pallets (ULDs) and switching to biofuels, just to name a few.

Did you know that 90% of everything we consume is moved by sea? - Ukri.org

The maritime sector is also now moving towards decarbonization by exploring alternative sustainable fuel options. Both sectors have committed to achieving carbon neutrality and reducing their net carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.

While we are still threading the long way to a more sustainable supply chain, businesses don’t have to be solely dependent on these plans anymore to apply sustainable practices in their operations. There are other aspects of logistics that can be looked into aside from international freight such as carbon-neutral warehousing, ditching single-use handling materials, investing in clean, innovative transportation solutions, and practicing social responsibility in all other aspects of the business.

RSA Global’ warehouse included in the 34,000 sqm. coverage of our solar energy generation project.

The Verdict

Which one would you pick for your cargo?

That would depend on your supply chain strategy.

Choosing a mode for your international cargo is a conditional verdict. In most cases, the conditions will call for a multi-modal solution instead of just one.

Each criterion influences the others. But not one factor should solely determine a supply chain decision but it is rather a combination of all and many other factors that implicitly plays a role in the movement of goods throughout the world.

With the aid of supply chain technology nowadays, it is becoming easier and faster to weigh your options in context to your current shipment requirements.

It takes a dedicated team and a close-knit network to get the accurate intel on what is to happen in our supply chain lanes and decide how do we get ahead of any disruptions such as unavailability of container space, congestions in ports, climate and weather conditions, or blockages in main shipping routes.  

Still having a dilemma deciding which is the better option for your cargo? Reach out to our international freight experts today!

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