Do cargo pilots receive different training than airline pilots? Are there notable differences in salary or other benefits?

My assumption is that since cargo pilots do not have to deal with passengers, passenger emergencies, or bear the responsibility of passenger lives, they may have less training and/or earn less than their airline counterparts.

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    $\begingroup$ Passengers are simply self-loading cargo :) $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Oct 20, 2017 at 7:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Jamiec self loaded??? Have you seen how much work it takes to get passengers to the right place at the right time and to sit in the correct seat? $\endgroup$
    – Notts90
    Oct 20, 2017 at 8:40

1 Answer 1


Do cargo pilots receive different training than airline pilots?

First, cargo carriers are airlines just as passenger carriers are airlines, and cargo pilots are airline pilots. In the U.S. there is no difference in the training and certification of pilots dependent on whether they fly passengers or cargo. Also, be aware that airlines you generally think of as passenger carriers can also be operating freighters as well as carrying cargo on pax flights.

Whether there are passengers or cargo in the back, the airplane is having to operate in the same airspace, and a given aircraft model, whether in pax or cargo configuration, is essentially the same insofar as flying the aircraft. Indeed, at each of the two 747 carriers I flew for, we had both pax and all-cargo aircraft, and which we were flying made no difference in our pay rate. Pay rate is typically dependent on equipment flown, union contracts, and other considerations, but not on whether there are boxes or people in the back.

There are a few differences in flying pax versus flying cargo. Some that I can think of offhand are:

  • With pax and within 4000 feet of the ground we limited our bank to 20 degrees unless in cloud.
  • With pax we tried to avoid turbulence in general. With cargo not so much. Boxes don't complain.
  • With pax you are less likely to be concerned about weight and balance. Pax weight and balance is relatively simple, cargo weight and balance can be more of a problem.
  • With pax, you of course can have passenger problems, but those are almost always handled by the cabin crew. Only once did I feel that I really had to go back to the cabin, and that was because we had an inexperienced purser. Even then I could have sent the flight engineer or first officer, but I was bored.

  • With cargo, you don't have to worry about passenger announcements.

  • With cargo, you don't have to worry about dinging the flight attendants going through 10,000 feet.

Cargo is more fun, in my opinion, insofar as flying the airplane; you feel free to do things that you might not do with pax.

Pax is more fun on layovers, and you don't have to get your own meals, drinks, etc in flight, although I flew 3-man cockpits and the flight engineer often took care of getting those things on cargo flights.

Pax can be a problem on layovers where they're depending on the full crew being available the next day, because flight attendants increase the number of required crew members, and thus the greater the chance that somebody will get sick, get beat up, get in trouble with the law, get hit by a car, or run out of money and hit up the captain for an emergency loan. I had all of those happen .

Finally, arguably the life that the pilot is most interested in preserving is her/his own. Get yourself to the destination safely. What's in the back of the airplane will follow.

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    $\begingroup$ "Boxes don't complain", but the recipients might! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 20, 2017 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ With pax we tried to avoid turbulence in general. With cargo not so much. I remember, more than once, hearing a phrase in the cockpit on cargo flights during turbulence. It was something like, "you gotta be tough to fly the mail." It was always stated in rhetorical tone as if it was a common axiom. Are you familiar with the phrase among cargo pilots? $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Oct 20, 2017 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW I can't remember having heard that in relation to cargo pilots per se, but I seem to remember hearing it or something like it in relation to the air mail pilots of the 1920s. I think, though, that it was about the overall environment they had to operate in, not just turbulence. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Oct 20, 2017 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW: Mail flights were the first scheduled flights, before there were regular passenger services. Mail pilots could not be picky about the weather, and that with wooden planes and open cockpits. It's definitely from the early Twenties. In Germany, an equivalent saying from that time was "only lunatics and Lufthansa will fly in this weather". $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2017 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ One addition: With cargo you have to deal with more dangerous goods and the associated paperwork and regulations, such as radioactive materials, lithium batteries, flammable chemicals, that are prohibited on passenger flights. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Oct 21, 2017 at 18:29

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