The pressure distribution, load capacity and air requirements to maintain a load carrying air film of variable thickness is investigated with the help of the finite element method. The load base is flat and rectangular and the air film is developed by supplying air externally through circular holes in the support table. The thickness of the air film is not constant when the centre of gravity of the load is eccentric. Different patterns of the air supply holes, viz. single central, triangular, square and hexagonal, are considered. The computed results compare favourably with experimental results. The study establishes the usefulness of the FEM for designing load-carrying air films and enables some general design recommendations to be made. © 1990.