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Glossary of Terms

The following guide to air freight containers has been developed from materials supplied by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air cargo carriers and container manufacturers. It should be noted that producing a truly comprehensive guide is a problematic task. While it would appear that there is a limited number of cargo aircraft operating the world, there are in fact, many aircraft types and many more aircraft cargo configurations. Each aircraft and configuration may require customized containers. The guide that follows contains illustrations and specifications of the most common containers in use today. Many of these containers can be used in multiple aircraft.

Ground Support Equipment (GSE)

Generally found at an airport, usually on the ramp.  The equipment is used to service the aircraft between flights. GSE supports the operations of aircraft on the ground.  This equipment is generally used for ground power operations, aircraft mobility and loading operations (for both cargo and passengers).


The aircraft servicing area by the terminal

ULD (Unit Load Devices)

While in the ocean freight cargo business the word "container" is widely accepted, in the air freight cargo business the proper term is "unit load device", or more commonly ULD. However, both terms are used.


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the primary source of industry wide technical information for ULDs. Their "ULD Technical Manual" contains the specifications manufacturers usually follow in making containers for airlines.


European Aviation Safety Agency


Federal Aviation Administration

Air Freight Forwarder

The practical source of information concerning ULDs for your shipment will most likely come from your air carrier or air freight forwarder. They will be best equipped to assist you in selecting the appropriate ULD for your needs.

Values / Details

All values listed in illustrations and tables are given in metric. Ft and lbs values are for easy reference only.

Openings / Doors

While airlines may be quite rigid about external dimensions and maximum gross weights, there are many styles of door openings that are permissible. ULD manufacturers produce products with hinged doors, folding aluminum panels as well as reinforced nylon curtains.

Pallets / Nettings

Pallets are in common use in most aircraft cargo configurations. All require the use of restraining devices. The most common type is a flexible netting of which there are numerous designs.

Maximum Gross Weights

Maximum gross weights vary from ULD type, ULD manufacturer, aircraft and air carrier. Be certain to confirm weight maximums