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A Shippers Guide to Aircraft Types

The 3 Most Used Types of Aircraft and The Cargo Dimensions They Can Transport


There are 3 main types of aircraft that are used to transport general and special cargo: narrow-body passenger aircraft, wide-body passenger aircraft, and charter aircraft also known as dedicated cargo aircraft or freighters. Let’s look at each in turn.

Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft


This type of aircraft carries both passengers and cargo, usually in a ratio of 60% to 40% respectively. Transporting cargo provides commercial airlines with additional income, which could be worth 5-10% of overall revenue.

Which Cargo Types Can I Ship on a Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft?

Security in passenger aviation is higher than for cargo-only aviation, and this means limitations on the types of cargo that can be transported. Some dangerous goods, for example, can be loaded but compliance with exacting passenger aviation regulations will be essential.

Which Cargo Dimensions Can I Ship on a Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft?

Cargo dimensions are limited to the height of the lower deck which, as a general rule, is 110 cm (43 in). Width restrictions may also apply.

Where Is Cargo Stored in a Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft?

Cargo is placed in the belly of the aircraft, contained inside unit load devices (ULDs) that fit into this area beneath where passengers sit.

Some goods may be loaded onto pallets, and other items may be loaded individually into the remaining space. There may also be a temperature-controlled, pressurized area for transporting live animals separately from other cargo and passenger luggage.

Which Cargo Types Can I Ship on a Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft?

Security in passenger aviation is higher than for cargo-only aviation, and this means limitations on the types of cargo that can be transported. Some dangerous goods, for example, can be loaded but compliance with exacting passenger aviation regulations will be essential.

Which Cargo Dimensions Can I Ship on a Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft?

Cargo dimensions are limited to the height of the lower deck which, as a general rule, is 110 cm (43 in). Width restrictions may also apply.

Where Is Cargo Stored in a Narrow-Body Passenger Aircraft?

Cargo is placed in the belly of the aircraft, contained inside unit load devices (ULDs) that fit into this area beneath where passengers sit.

Some goods may be loaded onto pallets, and other items may be loaded individually into the remaining space. There may also be a temperature-controlled, pressurized area for transporting live animals separately from other cargo and passenger luggage.

Wide-body Passenger Aircraft


With a wide-body passenger aircraft, more cargo can be loaded in the belly!

Consider that the fuselage diameter of a narrow-body passenger aircraft is 3-4 m (10-13 ft) while that of a wide-body passenger aircraft can be 5-6 m (16-20 ft) or more.

Everything mentioned about narrow-body passenger aircraft applies equally to wide-body passenger aircraft. 

Charter Aircraft


Charter aircraft, dedicated cargo aircraft, or freighters do not carry passengers, only the necessary air crew. Instead, they are filled to capacity with large loads of general and special cargo. For example, a Boeing 747 freighter can hold about 736 m3 of cargo while one of the largest commercial super transporters, the Airbus A300-600ST, known as the Beluga, has a 47-ton cargo capacity.

Which Cargo Types Can I Ship on a Charter Aircraft?

With few people on board, this type of aircraft can transport the most dangerous goods that are permitted to travel by air, subject to regulations.

Charters are suitable for specific types of shipments e.g. odd dimensional cargo, high value, high tonnage, humanitarian aid, etc.   

Which Cargo Dimensions Can a Charter Aircraft Accommodate?

Generally, there are higher maximum weight and dimension limitations on charter aircraft. For example, the height limit may be 300 cm (118 in) per cargo piece instead of the usual passenger aircraft limit of 160 cm (63 in).

Do Charter Aircrafts Operate Everywhere?

Charters operate on specific routes. Some airports only allow passenger aircraft which means that charter aircrafts sometimes have separate airports for landing. This is to address separate cargo offloading and handling time necessary for a charter.

Which Cargo Types Can I Ship on a Charter Aircraft?

With few people on board, this type of aircraft can transport the most dangerous goods that are permitted to travel by air, subject to regulations.

Charters are suitable for specific types of shipments e.g. odd dimensional cargo, high value, high tonnage, humanitarian aid, etc.   

Which Cargo Dimensions Can a Charter Aircraft Accommodate?

Generally, there are higher maximum weight and dimension limitations on charter aircraft. For example, the height limit may be 300 cm (118 in) per cargo piece instead of the usual passenger aircraft limit of 160 cm (63 in).

Do Charter Aircrafts Operate Everywhere?

Charters operate on specific routes. Some airports only allow passenger aircraft which means that charter aircrafts sometimes have separate airports for landing. This is to address separate cargo offloading and handling time necessary for a charter.