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100 Years of Airfreight

Motor of the global economy celebrates centenary

Nothing is older than yesterday's newspaper. Print media are a perishable product. Like roses from Kenya, lobster from Canada or tuna for Japan, mobile phones from China or designer clothes from Bangladesh, they would tie up expensive capital too long, if they were transported by sea. Cargo aircraft, especially freighters, are indispensable for shipping urgent relief supplies in emergency situations, such as the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima in March this year or the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. They are also on call when stricken container or cruise ships are left helpless by engine trouble on the high seas.

It is perhaps no more than a footnote in the history of aviation. But for airfreight in Germany, it marks the birth of transporting cargo by air. The date: 19 August 1911. On that day, a single-engined Harlan took off from a grass strip in Berlin Johannisthal bound for Frankfurt on the Oder with  nothing but cargo on board: copies of the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper fresh off the press. That shipment was to become symptomatic for the development of air cargo over the next one hundred years.

Globalisation of the economy, with production plants spread around the globe, would not have been possible without fast and reliable transportation of goods to all points of the compass. The division of labour has long been dependent on air cargo. Without airfreight, world trade would no longer function.

 When air traffic in Europe was paralysed for a week or so by the volcanic ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in April last year, production ground to a halt at a number of industrial plants. The assembly lines at BMW in Dingolfing in Bavaria as well as the carmaker's plants in Regensburg and Munich came to a standstill for lack of electronic components. Nissan halted production at its Japanese car factories in Kanagawa and Fukuoka: The reason: air pressure sensors manufactured in Ireland could not be flown in because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Goods moved by airfreight may account for less than one per cent of international trade by weight but for 35 per cent when measured by value. Whatever is valuable, expensive and hot off the press is mostly shipped on board freighters or in the belly holds of passenger jets; like that history-making shipment of the Berliner Morgenpost in the year 1911. And today still, despite the competition from electronic media, Lufthansa Cargo transports around 2,300 tonnes of newspapers and magazines annually. That's equivalent to about 25 fully-loaded wide-body jets.

Air cargo brings together what belongs together. It is a global medium for goods transportation. The stories of air cargo are many. They are adventurous, exciting, touching and astounding. Visionaries and challenging developments shaped its birth and early years. Air cargo for some is a label on a package; for others it is a source of myth and legend. The goods carried by air freight today mould and change our society. Without it, the world we know would not exist.

Did you know that

… the biggest freighter in 1948 was the Douglas C-74 Globemaster. Today, it‘s the Antonov An-225.

… the average cruise speed in commercial aviation in1920 was 150 km/h?  By 1960, it had risen to 990 km/h.

… the heaviest single piece of freight ever to be transported by air was a generator for a gas power plant, weighing all of 190 tonnes. It was airfreighted by an Antonov An-225 in 2009.

… the maximum payload on a Fokker F III in 1921 was O.6 tonnes. In 1970, the payload of an  Boeing 747-200F had climbed to 105 tonnes.

Press release

From flying crate to jumbo freighter: Logistics industry celebrates 100 years of air cargo in Germany