How Airline Freight Works

By: Karim Nice  | 

Cargo Planes

Loading cargo through the nose of a 747-400
Photo courtesy Hong Kong International Airport

Shipping companies like FedEx and UPS own many different types of cargo planes. One of the larger ones is the Boeing 747. When configured as a freighter, the Boeing 747-400 can hold about 26,000 cubic feet (736 m3) of cargo. That's about as much as five semi trucks can haul.

The 747-400 can hold 30 pallets of goods on the main level. The pallets are 96 by 125 inches (2.4 m by 3.2 m) and up to 120 inches (3.05 m) tall. For shipping horses, there are special containers called airstables that connect to pallets and fit in the cargo hold. On the lower level, the plane can hold another five pallets along with 14 specially fitted containers, each up to 64 inches (1.6-m) tall. All of these goods are loaded through hatches on the side of the plane.


Additionally, the plane can also open up its nose for the loading of large or irregularly shaped cargo.

A U.S. Customs inspector examines the cargo load in an airplane arriving from overseas.
Photo courtesy U.S. Customs Service, photographer James R. Tourtellotte

Since there often isn't room to drive a forklift truck into the plane to load the pallets, the load floor has electric rollers. Once a pallet enters through the doorway, the electric rollers move it to the front or rear of the cargo hold.

But for hauling really big cargo, you need a super transporter.