The Prospects of a Cargo Pilot

Pilots · 6 min read · Sep 13, 2021
Cargo Pilot

What is a cargo pilot?

They are professional aviators who followed an aviation course to learn how to fly and passed all the tests and examinations, but they only fly cargo. The intending aviator must also complete the minimum hours of flight training to attain a private pilot license. The person intends to have a career as a public pilot and fly a consignment plane or an airliner, the minimum hours of flight to attain this license would increase.

Is a cargo pilot a commercial pilot?

Yes, a cargo pilot is a commercial pilot. There are two types of public pilots, passenger pilots, and cargo pilots. The passenger pilots are those who chauffeur through the air during our flights from one location to another. The cargo pilots help move non-human from one place to another – their ‘passengers’ could range from boxes to cars to drugs.

Let’s examine how much fun pilot jobs are.

Cargo Plane and Passenger Plane

This revelation that some aviators fly only freight airplanes might make you wonder whether they manufacture some airplanes for cargo alone. Most of the aircraft used for consignment is either a former airline plane or an aircraft capable of operating as an airline plane. There are some airlines that both have the cargo airline outfit and the passenger plane outfit.

Differences between Cargo Plane and Airline Plane

The airline plane moves people from a place to another; the freight plane moves things, animals, etc., from a place to another. The airline plane has more than two crew members on board at any scheduled flight; the consignment plane usually goes on trips with two crew members are a time.

The airline plane uses estimated weights to determine the weight of the plane’s occupants; the consignment plane weighs the consignment without estimating the weight to know how to balance and place the consignment on the aircraft.

Companies with Cargo Flying Planes

Like we stated in the introduction, there are big names in the consignment plane sector that you either have not heard of or had no idea they do business in that. If you are to guess or search the internet for some organizations that make the consignment plane trade, the logistics companies- DHL, FedEx, UPS, etc., would likely pop up.

While these organizations are very much big players in the consignment plane trade, they may not transport materials that weigh more than a specified weight at a time. Also, they do not transport cars, animals, drugs, etc.

Federal Express, an example of a logistics company, is currently the organization with the highest fleet of consignment airplanes, particularly the Boeing 747, and has an enormous volume annually. Its product ranges from post-delivery, express mail, consignment forwarding, and third-party logistics. Other organizations own consignment airplanes and are not involved in the logistics business but align with them to deliver their goods worldwide.

They also align with other organizations such as the manufacturers of medical supplies, cars, etc. Atlas Air is a big name among these organizations as it ships, through the air, cargoes from perishables to heavy construction equipment. It is also one of the most significant users of the Boeing 747. Other organizations include Prime Air, SF Airlines, ASL Airlines Ireland.

Some organizations diversify in the profit-oriented aviation industry as they combine passenger flights and consignment flights. The Emirates is a combination of passenger flights and consignment flights. The Emirates SkyCargo is the consignment/logistics branch of Emirate Airlines.

A Ukrainian cargo plane Antonov An-225 Mriya in flight across the sky.
Image source:

Pilots flying Air Cargo Planes

You might wonder whether the aviators flying the consignment airplanes get special training or the training offered in the aviation school is enough. The aviators are not given any special training, except their employer intends to improve the efficiency of its crew. 

While there may be no special training for aviators before they can fly the consignment airplanes, many organizations require that the aviators have minimum hours of flight with the airline airplanes before they can qualify to fly the consignment airplanes. More hours are needed before you can captain the airplane.

Most aviators flying consignment airplanes work at night as the daytime reservation is for planes meant for passengers. It aims at reducing the traffic on the tarmac, even if the passenger airplanes constitute enough traffic on the tarmac. So, it is not strange to see or hear a pilot say that his flight time or schedule is sometime around the middle of the night. They operate and are busier at night than in the daytime. You may ask whether a pilot has a life outside the job; well, it depends on the individual professional.

Types and Models of Planes used as Cargo Planes

Consignment airplanes could be military cargo airplanes, civilian cargo airplanes, etc. the military consignment airplanes are pretty different from civilian consignment airplanes. It contains more distinctive features that are unavailable in a civilian consignment plane. These features aid the consignment plane move fast and defend itself in a war or attack situation.

The civilian consignment airplanes are primarily derivatives of non-cargo aircraft, converted from the normal passenger airplanes to a freighter by installing some features and removing some other features. The parts such as a main deck freight door with its control systems, the floor beams for consignment loads, smoke detectors, floors, etc., are installed in the aircraft to convert it to a consignment plane. An example of the eradicated passengers’ features is the chairs.

The organizations that carry out these conversions do it quickly and part with the unnecessaries in the plane. It makes this derivative of non-freight aircraft the go-to aircraft for air consignment transport companies. Boeing 747 and Bombardier CRJ200 are the standard models converted from airliners to consignment airplanes. The 747 is a favorite because it can carry more tons of payload, save more fuel, and travel a longer distance than many other models.

How does a cargo plane prepare for a flight?

When a consignment plane prepares for flights, mechanical checks, weighing of the consignment, balancing (rightly) the consignment on the plane are some things organized before the plane leaves the airport. The plane is specially designed to cater to the aviators during long flights and contains as many goods as possible. If it is a former passenger plane, the plane’s interior structure changed.

Before a flight, the plane undergoes mechanical checks to ensure that all the correct nuts and screws are not loose. The plane’s computer and navigation are operating at optimal function.

They weigh a shipment for a flight to determine and ensure it is according to the required weight. It will be labeled to ensure the proper delivery. The well-packaged consignment ensures it remains fastened on board an aircraft and does not loosen during a flight because an imbalance in the weight of a plane can affect the flight.

There is adherence to all other standard requirements provided by the aviation regulator or the individual institution to prepare the flight. The engineer does his part to ensure the plane is in perfect shape.

A Boeing 747 cargo pilot sitting in front of the aircraft's instrument panel.
Image source:

How much do cargo pilots make?

This question catches many people’s interest. So, after carrying out operations all over the globe and flying through several air routes, is the pay proportional to the work and energy expended. These professionals are some of the higher earners in the aviation industry. They earn more than an average airline pilot, which in a way, makes the airline pilots feel envious.

Averagely, the cargo pilot earns around $95,000 per annum. They earn up to $200,000 annually. The payment rate depends on the work rate, experience, and flight hours the aviator has. The more years of flight the cargo pilot has under his belt, the higher his salary is likely to be.

During the coronavirus pandemic, most passenger pilots were unable to operate and fly. However, the cargo pilots were still in the position to fly as the world economy, and life must go on even in the face of a deadly virus. 

Without belittling this remuneration paid in this profession, their importance in commerce and trade is vital. With the aid of fast-flying airplanes, the aviators can deliver medical supplies, construction equipment, etc., in record time to the needed places.


Before you attempt to curry a job in cargo piloting, you should know that you have to make sacrifices. You can go on a week without a break, sleeping in a hotel when you land, going on a trip to Europe with an hour or more to rest, depending on how large the crew is. You cannot get answers to your request for a coffee, but you have to make your free coffee yourself. 

Cargo airplanes are big, fanciful, and adventurous. Yes, you may not go on trips with your family in it or go for a family trip to Europe or anywhere in these airplanes. Still, cargo pilot enjoy flying through the globe without the complaints that come with flying passengers and have a quiet and beautiful night while doing so. Another inspiration in this career is the lucrative pay.

Want to read more like this?

Enter your email and get curated content straight to your inbox!

Thank your for your subscription.

You are already subscribed to this newsletter.

Aeroclass Team
A team of professionals with a deep passion for the aviation industry bringing you the newest and the most striking industry-related news and content.

1 comment

  1. I heard and read cargo pilots make no where near what you says in your article. I hear they make way less. Some $15,000 a year with the average being $39,000 to 60,000.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent posts

Pilot shortage: the issue disrupting airline operations across the world

Pilots · 4 min read

The aviation industry is currently undergoing a challenging period with pilot shortages disrupting normal flight operations. Airlines across the world are preoccupied with the problem and the efforts to contain it. Let’s take a look at the leading causes of the pilot shortage, its effects on the industry and the best solutions to tackle the issue.

Apr 04, 2023
flight phases

A Complete Guide to Flight Phases

Pilots · 12 min read

Flying can seem overwhelming at times but understanding each of these phases can help make it easier for aviation professionals or anyone curious about flying planes.

Dec 23, 2022
soft field landing

A 5 Step Guide to Soft Field Landing

Pilots · 4 min read

This blog post will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to successfully soft-field land an aircraft so you can master soft field approach and landings and open up more destinations for flight.

Dec 16, 2022

Start learning from the best minds now

  • Check your knowledge with quizzes
  • Pre-recorded certified courses
  • Study on different devices
  • Virtual classes/Live sessions
  • Pre-recorded Aviation management courses
  • Obtain Aeroclass Certificate
Get Started Today