24 March 2021 | Marketing Team

The amount of money you pay for airfreight depends on the characteristics of the shipment and the cargo weight is a major cost contributor. Chargeable weight of the shipment may be based on actual, volumetric or positional weight of the cargo.
So what is the difference between all these types of weight and how do you calculate the weight you end up paying for?

What is Actual Weight?

Actual weight is the gross weight of the shipment and it is measured using scales or a weighing platform. For air transportation, this means the total weight of the cargo, including that of the pallet and packing materials (boxes, etc.). It is generally accepted that the actual weight of the cargo is measured using the metric system, e.g. kilograms and any imperial units such as pounds are converted into metric units for ease of calculation (1 kg= 2.205 lb).

The actual weight of the cargo is verified by the ground handling agent when the shipment is tendered to the airline. The agent weighs the cargo upon acceptance and issues a weighing slip. The weight on the weighing slip is final and it is recorded on the air waybill.

What is Volumetric Weight?

In airfreight, standard carrier pricing is based on weight rather than volume. However, light loads take up much more space than their share of weight load and would be unprofitable for airlines to ship. To solve this problem, the air industry has imposed a minimum weight based on cargo density.

Volumetric weight (dimensional weight, volume weight) of the cargo is a mass calculated based on the dimensions of the cargo - L (length), W (width) and H (height). At a similar weight, denser loads take up less space compared to lighter loads.

How to Calculate Volumetric Weight for Airfreight?

Take the following steps to calculate your shipment’s volumetric weight:

  1. Take the dimensions of the cargo in centimeters (L x W x H), for example:

Length (L): 150 cm

Width (W): 70 cm

Height (H): 50 cm

  1. Multiply the length, width and height:

150 cm (L) * 70 cm (W) * 50 cm (H) = 525,000 cm³

  1. Divide the resulting figure into 6000, following the formula widely accepted by airlines (certain carriers use 5000):

525,000 / 6000= 87.6 kg

Volumetric weight can be calculated using an alternative method: dividing the resulting figure into 167, because based on 1,000,000 cm³ / 6000 = 166.6 kg, 1m³ equals 167 kg. We end up with 525,000 * 167 = 87,670,000 cm³, which equals 87.67m³. Saying otherwise, 1 kg = 6000 cm³ or 1 m³ = 167 kg.

What is Positional Weight?

Positional weight (pivot weight) is a conditional weight based on ULD (unit load device) dimensions. It is based on the minimum established weight of a ULD and differs from airline to airline. Positional weight can be applied to non-standard or out-of-gauge shipments (e.g. motorcycles) which may or may not occupy the whole space of a ULD but requires the shipper to pay for the entire position. This is because the cargo cannot be stacked or may not be consolidated together with other pieces of cargo, thus leaving a “dead space” on the ULD. Sometimes the cargo weight may exceed the minimum positional or pivot weight, in which cases airlines require the shipper to pay extra charges at fixed rates for extra weight exceeding the pivot weight.

Calculation of Chargeable Weight

For airfreight, chargeable weight of the cargo is based on volumetric, actual or positional weight, whichever is greater. Airfreight costs are determined by multiplying carrier’s rates by (1) actual or volumetric weight or (2) positional weight of the unit load device (ULD) established by airlines.


Example 1

Let’s take an example of soft toys. 40 kilograms of teddy bears are packed into a wooden box 250 cm X 130 cm X 120 cm. Based on the formula we mentioned above, we arrive at a chargeable weight of 600 kg.

600 kg = (250 cm L * 130 cm W * 120 cm H ) / 6000

Volumetric weight by far exceeds the actual weight and therefore is used as a basis for determining the chargeable weight.

Example 2

To carry books in a box sized 90 cm X 60 cm X 50 cm with an actual weight of 60 kg, we calculate the following chargeable weight:

(90 cm L * 60 cm W * 50 cm H) * 167 = 45,090,000 сm³

This is 45 kilograms of volumetric weight, which means we are calculating the chargeable weight of shipment based on the actual weight.

Other Publications