How to start an air cargo company

Updated February 21, 2017

The United States air cargo industry effectively began in 1941 with the formation of Air Cargo, a cargo-only company formed by the four largest U.S. airlines. By the end of World War II, several of these large airlines had begun their own freight transport services. Smaller cargo carriers failed in their attempts to break into the air cargo market.

During the 1980s, Federal Express was formed to provide cargo-only service to U.S. locations. United Parcel Service (UPS) followed suit. Both carriers fly jet aircraft into carefully chosen hubs, and are met by local drivers who transport and receive packages and documents by truck or van.

Organise your air cargo business. Meet with a certified public accountant with airline or air freight experience. Consult with a commercial insurance agent with similar background, in addition to risk management and liability experience with transport service clients. Finally, obtain a business license at your city or county clerk's office.

Consult with your regional Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representative for specific requirements related to air cargo businesses. Finally, contact your state occupational safety and health office to learn about aeroplane-related safety issues and guidelines.

Analyse the United States air cargo market. The Quick Caller Online Air Freight Directories provide an annual listing of air freight companies serving the U.S. Regional directories are available, as well as state-by-state air freight listings. Printed versions of the directory can also be purchased.

Use a no-cost method to determine your region's air freight providers. Examine each commercial airport's website and look for listings of air cargo or air freight companies operating on airport premises.

Find a market niche to fill. Search for an unserved (or underserved) market with a growing business and residential base. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce for demographic data specific to your area.

In addition, look for companies that are increasing production but having service delays in their current distribution networks.

Purchase your cargo aeroplanes. Although many air cargo companies use jet aircraft, some of the regional markets use large general aviation aircraft such as the Cessna Caravan. These aircraft have a huge cargo capacity, and can land at smaller airports with shorter runways. Contact a commercial aircraft broker to learn about available aircraft and their cargo capacities.

Complete your FAA Part 135 approval process. Your air cargo planes will be operated within the framework of FAA regulations. All for-hire aircraft must receive FAA inspection approval before they can begin operations.

This inspection will include a thorough examination of equipment and maintenance records. Any discrepancies must be corrected before approval will be issued. Additional inspections may be conducted at any time.

Finally, the FAA has developed a step-by-step guide to the Part 135 approval process (See Resources).

Hire pilots with appropriate certifications. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14 Subpart F, an air cargo pilot must hold the appropriate commercial pilot rating for the aircrafts the pilot commands. To receive a commercial pilot rating, a pilot must demonstrate general aeronautical knowledge and possess documented flight time for the appropriate rating. Finally, the pilot must perform prescribed manoeuvres to demonstrate his flight proficiency.

Visit potential customers in person. Identify your prospects with information you've gathered about regional business expansions. Before your meeting, analyse their distribution issues. Formulate solutions using your air cargo services.

Things You'll Need

  • Business license
  • Federal Aviation Administration air cargo-business requirements
  • State occupational safety and health requirements for aeroplanes
  • Information on airfreight competition
  • Business and residential data
  • List of expanding companies with distribution problems
  • List of cargo planes of interest
  • Maintenance records for each cargo plane in your fleet
  • FAA inspection approval certificate for each cargo plane
  • Guide to Part 135 approval process
  • Pilot rating certificates
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About the Author

Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.