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Are aircraft flown differently because boxes don't complain about more abrupt changes in direction, speed, altitude, etc where passengers might. i.e. if the cargo is incapable of loading itself, is it subjected to a more aggressive flight regimen than if the cargo is self-loading and potentially complaint-filing.

I understand that Boeing, Airbus and other manufacturers produce essentially identical airframes in both passenger and cargo configurations, so they would have essentially identical flight envelopes, I just wonder if cargo flights are taken closer to the extremes.

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Yes, cargo and passenger aircraft of the same basic model are sometimes flown differently when there is no live cargo. A friend of mine who flies cargo put it almost exactly as you did in your question when you say boxes cannot complain, so he sometimes hand flies the aircraft when passenger pilots would be required to use autopilot. Cargo pilots don't have to worry about tender stomachs in the back, so steeper climbs and descents and tighter turns are acceptable as long as the aircraft remains well within the flight envelope.

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    $\begingroup$ You can see the difference when comparing flightpath of the two directions of the Reykjavik-Liège weekly flight by Icelandair Cargo. Export is live horses, import is machinery. So, on which leg would the pilot choose a stomach-friendly flight path? $\endgroup$ – Alexander May 20 '15 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ My friend does fly horses occasionally, dogs as well. With those flights he's very careful so he doesn't stress them. $\endgroup$ – GdD Mar 1 at 9:06

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