Types of Aircraft Utilized for Air Cargo

Cargo companies fly their cargo on various aircraft. The types of aircraft utilized for air cargo can range from wide-body freighters to small turboprop “feeders.”

  • Wide-Body Freighters: Accommodate containerized and palletized freight on upper and lower (belly) decks and typically operate at airports in major metropolitan areas. They are used on both short domestic and long transoceanic international routes and require long runways for takeoff and landing.
  • Narrow-Body Freighters: Accommodate containerized and palletized freight on upper decks only and are used primarily on domestic routes throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean and serve smaller metropolitan areas and also require long runways for takeoff and landing.
  • Feeder Aircraft: Express carriers, such as FedEx, DHL, and UPS also rely on feeder airlines that operate small aircraft to support transporting cargo to and from small to medium sized markets to cargo hubs. These aircraft are comprised of piston and turboprop aircraft and do not require long runways for takeoff and landing.

Integrated express carriers, as well as all cargo carriers, typically rely on both wide- and narrow-body jet aircraft to transport air cargo to domestic and international destinations. Freighter planes are made to carry only freight both on the lower and the main deck. The freighter floors have embedded rollers to help slide the freight into position. Hook locking facilities are provided along the floor to secure the freight. Some of the freighters have winches built-in to help lift or lower freight, which is a big help to move and position heavy loads in the cabin.

On passenger aircraft, freight goes into the forward and aft compartments and in the hold, which is right at the back. Doors are provided on the sides with varying amounts of clearance, depending on the type of aircraft.

Certain dangerous goods are restricted to freighters. Such goods are classified as Cargo Aircraft Only (CAO). Special rules are in place that determine where and how dangerous goods are to be positioned inside the plane.


  • ACI-NA Air Cargo Guide

    Chapter 1, Air Cargo- A Historical Perspective and Sections 3.16-3.18, Aircraft and Freighter Fleets- Cargo Airships briefly describe types of air cargo fleets and future growth.

  • Air Cargo Aircraft by Type, Size, and Payload

    This table presented by Air Charter Authority lists the payload and size of various air cargo aircraft.

  • Cargo Aircraft

    This website presented by Aircraft Charter World provides photos and cross-sections of a variety of aircraft types utilized for air cargo.

  • Charter Cargo Load Configurations and Plans

    This website shows load configurations and load plans for two cargo aircraft available through ABX Air.

  • Boeing Freighter Family

    This Boeing website describes Boeing aircraft used as commercial freighters.


  • Photos of air cargo aircraft can be found using an internet search for [type of aircraft] + “images” (i.e. “Narrow Body Freighter Images”).