Chapman Freeborn blog

Cargo Air Charter

Why do cargo aircraft sometimes have to fly empty?

In September a Boeing B747-400BCF will be departing from Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA) in the United Kingdom, and flying to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), Malaysia. This cargo aircraft will be carrying nothing. There are many instances where we fly aircraft without cargo, and this is just one example.

In this instance, a new customer contacted Chapman Freeborn to move 100 tons of electrical components from Kuala Lumpur to the United Kingdom. The goods will be ready to move imminently.

Chapman Freeborn’s experienced Air Cargo Brokers scoured the market extensively, sourced all possible solutions, and offered a number of variable and cost saving options to the client.

The client needs to uplift the 100T commodity in one full flight, and the movement date is not flexible, so they chose our option utilising the B747-400BCF freighter aircraft KUL – DSA.

Before this flight, the airline must fulfil all other existing commitments. The aircraft will first fly to the Middle East with general cargo, pick up oil well equipment from Glasgow Prestwick and deliver to Rio de Janeiro, before heading to Nairobi to bring a full load of fruit back up north to the United Kingdom ready for the supermarket shelves. Here in Doncaster, the aircraft terminates. Its crew will go into rest and routine maintenance will be performed.

The aircraft’s following live flight is from Kuala Lumpur with the electrical components, but its current position will be Doncaster having just offloaded the fruit from Nairobi. Therefore, to get to Kuala Lupmur, it has to fly without cargo, but this empty aircraft can be beneficial to other customers who take advantage of this empty leg.

If Chapman Freeborn are able to link another customer’s movement up with an empty sector, the difference in cost for their flight will be lower. Usually, these sectors can be secured at a fraction of the cost of a round trip charter, and our team of specialist brokers can put everything in motion.

There is no party involved that want an aircraft flying without cargo on board. Comparatively, if a passenger aircraft is required in a different country, and a customer also wanted to take that route, they would want to make use of the empty aircraft.

The air charter industry is frequently reacting to unexpected changes in supply chain logistics, whether that be production delays meaning deadlines can’t be met, natural disasters and geopolitical tensions effecting conventional trade routes, or a simple lack of capacity during peak season. When this happens, there is likely to be more cargo aircraft flying empty, and therefore more opportunity for customers to take advantage of these routes.

B747-400BCF flying empty from UK – Malaysia

Available payload on this routing: 103,000 kilos
Useable Volume: 650 cubic meters

Shipping times for 100,000 Kilos

Cargo air charter: 12 hours
Air freight: 4 – 5 days
Sea freight: Approx. 36 days direct at 10 knots


UK exports of trade goods to Malaysia were worth around 1.4 billion pounds in 2017.

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society. It is a relatively open, newly industrialised market economy and is ranked highly in the World Bank’s “2017 Ease of Doing Business” survey (23rd out of 190 countries). Malaysia is one of Southeast Asia’s most successful economies and one of the Department of International Trade’s (DIT) high growth markets.

Malaysia is the UK’s second-largest trading partner in ASEAN. The top five sectors for trade between the UK and Malaysia are:

  • Machinery and transport equipment
  • Manufactured goods
  • Chemical and related products
  • Crude oil and fuel
  • Food, beverages and tobacco

And all these commodities are suitable for air transport, as long as they’re packed in accordance with IATA regulations and not restricted.

For more information and enquires, contact our dedicated air charter experts today on