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8 Reasons Why Working As a Cargo Pilot Can Improve Your Career

Single Pilot Cargo Airplane

Working as a Cargo Pilot can be a stable, rewarding, and lucrative career. Here’s some reasons you might want to give it another thought:

1) Cargo Employment is More Stable

Aviation industry economic cycles are more pronounced than standard economic cycles. There is significant boom and bust, particularly with passenger airlines. When the economy is doing well, the airlines are drunk on success and going on hiring sprees. When the economy does poorly passenger airlines boot a lot of their employees to the curb.

United Parcel Service 747

Cargo Operations are more stable than their airline counterparts. Cargo employers are not immune to ups and downs. However, their operations don’t swing widely and they don’t have a need to go through peaks and valleys of pilot employment. Fedex has been cited in the past for their lack of layoffs. UPS didn’t furlough their first pilot until 2010.

2) Cargo Airplanes Are As Cool As Passenger Airplanes

Airplanes used in cargo operations are often the same as those used by the airlines. The training and certification is the same and the airplanes are flown with the same adherence to procedure.

Some cargo airplanes used in the lower rungs of operators are older planes that are poorly equipped and maintained. But just as often feeder planes can be well equipped and technologically advanced. The quality of the plane in the lower levels of cargo rungs will be dependent on the employer.

3) Some Cargo Jobs Will Have You Home Every Night

Yes, you have pilot employment options if you are more of a home body. Pilots that fly larger cargo airplanes are on the road a lot. But pilots that fly smaller cargo airplanes are usually home every night.

4) Cargo Pilot Pay Can Be As Good As the Airlines

Pay at the large cargo operators such as Fedex and UPS is equivalent to passenger airline pilot pay. Pilots at the large cargo operations will get into wide body airplanes faster and start earning the higher pay associated with those airplanes sooner.

5) There is a Wide Range of Operations to Choose From

Atlas Air 747

Cargo operations span from small single-engine piston airplanes flying backcountry to world-spanning routes using the biggest airplanes flying.

  • If you wish to see the world, operations like Atlas Air have trips that fly around the world.
  • If you want to stay close to home, operations like Ameriflight or Mountain Air Cargo you will only fly a couple hours away from home and return home that same day.
  • If you want to have an easy work day, some feeder cargo operations have work days that include a short flight to another city, 5ish hours of hanging out in a hotel, and a short flight home.
  • There are cargo operations stationed around the world where you can fly vital supplies in to unimproved conditions.

6) Low Time Pilots Can Get Started Sooner in Cargo

Single Pilot Cargo Airplane

Working for a passenger airline requires an Airline Transport Pilot Rating (ATP), which requires 1,500 hours of flight experience with additional training and testing after reaching that point.

Small cargo operators that fly in only visual conditions can hire you with a commercial pilot license and 500 hours of flight time. Most entry level cargo pilot jobs operate in instrument flight rules, which requires 1,200 hours of flight time – still faster than getting to an ATP. Some cargo pilot employers are introducing unique hiring paths to get pilots into their system with a wet commercial pilot license.

7) If You Want to Fly by Yourself You Can

Large cargo airplanes are flown by at least two pilots. But if working in a team isn’t your thing there are many cargo airplanes that only require one pilot. Employers only staff planes to minimum requirements so you can have the option of being as much a hermit as your heart desires.

8) Don’t Have to Worry About Passengers

“Boxes don’t bitch” is a perk of cargo flying. The cargo being carried on airplanes is of concern, particularly the hazardous cargo and ensuring that the cargo is secured properly. However, cargo pilots do not need to worry about avoiding turbulence, the temperature of the cabin, making passenger announcements, answering the same questions all the time, and a myriad of other odd issues that crop up when the airplane cargo is self-loading and sentient.

Greg started his professional pilot journey in 2002 after graduating from Embry Riddle. Since that time he has accumulated over 8,000 hours working as a pilot. Greg’s professional experience includes flight instructing, animal tracking, backcountry flying, forest firefighting, passenger charter, part 135 cargo, flying for a regional airline, a national low cost airline, a legacy airline, and also working as a manager in charge of Part 135 and Part 121 training programs.

Greg Thomson