The ship is designed to combine fixed wing V/STOL and helicopter air operations, command and control operations and the transport of military or civil personnel and heavy vehicles. The 134 m (440 ft), 2,800 m2 (30,000 sq ft) hangar space can double as a vehicle hold capable of holding up to 24 main battle tanks (typically Ariete) or many more lighter vehicles (50 Dardo IFV, 100+ Iveco LMV), and is fitted aft with access ramps rated to 70 tons, as well as two elevators rated up to 30 tons for aircraft. Cavour can also operate as landing platform helicopter, accommodating heavy transport helicopters (AgustaWestland UH-101A ASH) and 325 marines.
Cavour has a displacement of 27,900 tons but can reach more than 30,000 tons at full military capacity, after improvements done in 2008.
Initially she was to be named after Luigi Einaudi, then Admiral Andrea Doria, before receiving her current title. Now that Cavour has become operational, it is the nuova unità maggiore (NUM, or "new main unit") of the Marina Militare, complementing Giuseppe Garibaldi, the other aircraft carrier in service. The ship was originally constructed in two sections (bow and stern) then later joined together.
The Italian Navy will replace its 16 Harriers with 15 (originally 22) Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II within the next few years. The F-35B schedule is uncertain at the moment, but it is planned to modify Cavour to support the F-35B by 2016. Cavour will have room for ten F-35Bs in the hangar, and six more parked on deck.