What is the typical aircrew for a civilian (not military) cargo flight? From my limited web searches, it seems that there would be three crew members:

  1. Pilot
  2. Co-pilot (I assume there must always be minimum of two people in the flight deck, in case anything happens to the primary pilot)
  3. Loadmaster, a crew member responsible for loading and unloading cargo, and for assuring load balance during the flight.

Are these indeed three minimal, required crew members for a cargo flight? Are there any others that are required or optional? What is typical for a long haul cargo flight, and what is typical for short haul. (Rather than precisely defining how many hours is long haul or short haul--I'm not even sure--I'll leave that open for the answerers, since I'm really not sure what to expect.)


2 Answers 2


The context of this answer is 747-100 and -200 freighters at two airlines during the 1990s flying both civilian and military freight.

In the case of the 747-100 and -200 you had a 3-man cockpit crew: Captain, First Officer, and Flight Engineer. With the 3-man crew, there was no regulatory need to carry an additional pilot for a long flight. The 747-400 has, of course, a 2-man cockpit, but I don't know what the long-haul regulatory requirement was/is for an additional pilot.

There was no regulatory requirement to carry a loadmaster. If you were going between two stations that you regularly operated between, a loadmaster might not be carried if each station had trained loadmasters. However, if you were on a multi-leg, multi-day trip including stops where there wouldn't be loadmasters, one would be on-board (and maybe two if one of them was being trained). The loadmasters sometimes stayed with the airplane (or at least they used to) for periods of a few days to as much as two weeks even though the cockpit crews were changed out every day. Every few days the loadmasters would check into a close hotel for a quick shower or use a shower at an airport maintenance facility or some such. What always dismayed me was that they seemed to exist solely on catered food on the airplane for the entire time. While the airplane was in the air they slept when they weren't eating. Hopefully by now loadmasters are unionized and have better working conditions.

A mechanic was often carried if the airplane was having troubles or if it was being dispatched into Africa or other places where competent maintenance would not be available.

If you were carrying horses, there would be handlers with them. The one time I carried horses, they had a handler for each horse. Also, if you were carrying sensitive or very expensive cargo, there would often be someone to watch over it.

If it was a military cargo flight, there would sometimes be a 'military courier' or two aboard.

Jumpseaters were common, sometimes a lot of them depending on where you going, where you were coming from. The old 747s had 2 jumpseats in the cockpit and, typically, at least 8 first class seats on the upper deck, and often a bunk or two. I noticed in the accident report for the 747 freighter loss at Bagram that there were 7 persons aboard.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The main problem with jump seating cargo is ending up on that deserted island. :cD badum bump $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ A) You were the person I most expected to answer this (thanks for not disappointing!) B) post-9/11 are cockpit jump seats available to paying customers? C) A handler for each horse? That seems extreme! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Concerning the horses, these were race horses, at least the one time I carried horses. I was told the handlers actually stood at each horses head holding their halters during takeoff and landing. Concerning jumpseaters, that's what we actually called them, either that or ACMs (additional crew members) even though they were not sitting in the cockpit but back in the upper deck area. I don't know what post-9/11 rules are. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ Post 9/11 cargo carriers still take jumpseaters. Generally the same requirements as passenger airlines and often very specific listing requirements. Ask your jump seat coordinator for details. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer (I upvoted it), but I chose the other current response because it seems to reflect more current information. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Tripartio
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 3:15

Modern civil cargo flights can be divided into three categories: containerized-load, large-load, and feeder.

Containerized-load cargo (ULDs, standard pallet loads)

This is your typical UPS or FedEx flight; their flight crew complements are no different than a passenger aircraft flying the same route -- a captain and F/O for a short haul route such as one of the UPS A300s, and a captain, F/O, relief captain, and relief F/O ("heavy" crew) for a long-haul flight that needs them, although they may prefer to break such a flight up into segments, performing crew changes on the ground. (Flight engineers aren't counted here since those aircraft are basically retired now.)

Bulk-load cargo

These loads (vehicles, large equipment, live animals, etc) require more attention, so loadmasters are more commonly seen on these flights. However, the FAA does not consider a loadmaster "flight crew" in the sense that there are no licenses or ratings for the position; the training and qualifications for loadmasters are completely up to their employer.

Feeder aircraft

Feeder aircraft are often turboprop types (ATRs, for instance) that are too small to use standard-sized ULDs, so they are loaded in bulk on the main deck. They use a captain and first officer pairing as well.

Either way, most cargo aircraft have room for supernumeraries (aka jump seaters), at least on the cockpit jumpseats if not in a forward or upper deck passenger cabin as well; long-haul aircraft will also have crew rest bunks fitted to that forward cabin area for use by "heavy" crews.


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