The Surprising History of Air Freight

Air freight services are a common business practice now, with the skies full of cargo planes, and passenger airlines with their excess space rented to ship freight across the world. It’s most commonly used in situations where next day delivery is required but the distances are too great to allow freight by land or sea in the available time – however, the incredible speed of air freight services often means that the sky is quite literally the limit, getting the cargo where it is needed in record time. But how did this process begin? When did we begin to ship our freight through the sky instead of by land or sea? What caused the success of air cargo services, and what is the story behind them?

It didn’t take long after the invention of the aeroplane for people to begin to wonder about the possibilities for business. Only a few years after the Wright Brothers made their first powered flight, back when the only commercially-available planes were single-seater biplanes with a top speed of around 65 miles per hour, barely improved from the Wright Flyer, an intrepid pilot named Philip Parmelee realised that where there is freight to be carried, there is freight to be carried quickly.

Having found a store which needed 200lbs of silk for its opening in a completely different part of Ohio, on the 7th November 1910 Parmelee loaded the rolls of silk into his Wright Model B plane and piloted it from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio, flying a distance of 65 miles in 57 minutes – a world speed record at the time. Parmelee’s fateful voyage was not only the world’s first cargo-only flight, it was the world’s first cargo flight commissioned by a client, and the first example of air transport involving multiple styles of freight service, since the silk was then carried by car to the store which commissioned them.

With this stunning success, the first air freight services were born – although it would be some time before they saw real commercial success.

Following on from the success of Parmelee’s foray into air cargo services, numerous entrepreneurs in the 1920’s realised that aircraft could move small amounts of high-value cargo much faster and more securely than railroads, billing themselves as transporters of high-priority, low-volume goods like imported leather, diamonds and exotic foodstuffs. At this point, planes were still extremely limited in the amount of goods that could be carried, but these early air cargo services still saw reasonable success. A frequent cargo for these services was cinema reels – relatively low volume, these reels were still high value and usually time-sensitive deliveries, so air freight services were perfect for their distribution.

However, despite frequent attempts to begin a reliable air freight service, it took until the technological and geopolitical developments of the Second World War for air cargo services to really take off. For example, the larger, more powerful aircraft available to the air transport market were necessary for the resupply of the completely encircled city of West Berlin, isolated from all land and sea access by Russia. Over 330 days, an average of 6,800 tonnes of cargo was carried into West Berlin by air, paving the way for modern air freight techniques and practices.

Today, air freight is ubiquitous – thanks to modern air freight services like the one provided by Graylaw Freight, cargo can be carried faster and further than ever before, allowing same-day and next-day delivery all over the world.

Graylaw Freight are happy to arrange air freight on any products or materials, whenever you need it. For more information or to commission them, get in touch by calling 01695 729101 or visiting their site today!