We all know that being a pilot involves flying airplanes to transport both people and things across distances. Many prospective pilots have questions about how being a cargo pilot compares to being an airline pilot.
While being a cargo pilot and being an airline pilot have a lot in common, there are also some key differences. So, what’s the difference between being a cargo pilot vs being an airline pilot?
Cargo pilots fly commercial airplanes from one location to another to transport a variety of items including mail and other freight while airline pilots transport passengers and their luggage.
Since they both involve flying commercial aircraft professionally, they have a lot in common, but can also be very different careers. In this article we will compare the two roles and look at the specifics of what they have in common, what’s different, and other things you’ll want to know if you’re considering which career is right for you.
Similarities between Cargo Pilots and Airline Pilots
Becoming a cargo pilot or an airline pilot still require you to meet many of the same education and flight experience requirements. This includes:
- Earning your pilot’s license
- Earning multi-engine (and many other) rating
- Finally earning the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification which has among the strictest requirements in the aviation industry
*Related: Requirements to be an airline pilot
One of the things that both of these careers have in common is the educational requirement. Both careers require you to have the education, experience, and skills to fly a commercial airliner. This includes having the ability to:
- Take off and land the plane
- Handle aviation emergencies as they arise
- Effectively use navigational techniques/systems
- Fly in a variety of conditions, potentially all over the world
As you can see, even though cargo pilots don’t carry passengers like an airline pilot does, there is still a lot of work that goes into gaining the necessary education, experience, and qualifications.
Types of Flying
Cargo pilots and airline pilots are required to take on a variety of different types of shifts and flights. This includes flights:
- Both domestic and international
- At day and night
- Through rough weather
- A variety of other factors
Differences between Cargo Pilots and Airline Pilots
Differences During Flights
During a flight, an airline pilot has to focus on passengers and their safety. This includes job duties like making announcements to the passengers, managing turbulence, as well as the temperature of the cabin. The airline pilot also is typically in charge of the cabin crew and ensures that they do everything needed to make passengers have a pleasant experience.
Since cargo pilots don’t have traditional passengers, their flights are a little different. Gone are all the duties relating to passengers like making those announcements. Instead, cargo pilots make sure that they are getting to their destination with whatever they are transporting in good condition. That means making sure cargo is secure and managing turbulence so that property isn’t destroyed.
Cargo pilots also usually have a requirement to have things to their destination on time as their employer is contractually obligated to do so.
Airline pilots are responsible for providing safe transportation for passengers at all hours of the day/night. This includes flights on nights, weekends, and holidays. While pilots just starting out will usually have these lesser sought after shifts, they can usually start to pick and choose shifts as they gain experience.
Cargo pilots often have to fly overnight shifts due to the nature of the business. Many carriers have mail/postage that has to arrive to it’s destination by morning and thus have to fly through the night.
Cargo Pilot vs Airline Pilot Pay
One area that airline pilots generally have an advantage over cargo pilots is in salary. Airline pilots earn more money than cargo pilots on average. Below are some details for comparison.
As you can see, airline pilots will typically make more than cargo pilots. Part of this is due to the added responsibility and stress of having passengers.
Like most things, averages also don’t tell the whole story. There are many cargo pilots that make great money, have great benefits and love their career. While looking at these numbers might give you a general idea of how much each type of pilot earns, there is more to consider than average income if you’re considering one of these careers for yourself.
*Related: Which airlines pay pilots the most?
Future Job Growth Outlook
There is currently a shortage of pilots in the aviation industry. This includes both cargo pilots and airline pilots. Also, the demand for both of these jobs is expected to increase over time. Due to the combination of a shortage of pilots and an increased demand, the career prospects for prospective pilots is great.
You can expect that as long as you have the education and credentials for either of these jobs, getting hired should not be a challenge. There is expected to be plenty of demand in the marketplace for safe and responsible pilots.
Which is a Better Career? (Cargo Pilot vs Airline Pilot)
This is a very complex question that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. These are both fantastic careers and it really comes down to choosing which one is right for you. As stated above, the two careers have a lot in common including similar requirements for education, training, and flight time.
The main differences to these careers are that an airline pilot is much more focused on passenger travel while a cargo pilot is much more focused on his freight.
What this means in their day-to-day work is that an airline pilot will have to interact with passengers and cabin crew, make announcements to passengers, and generally be focused on the safety and positive experience of passengers. Cargo pilots will be much more focused on loading and securing the freight they are transporting.
While these two professions have a lot in common there are also some differences as well. There is no right or wrong answer as to which is the better career since the right answer depends on your own career goals and preferences.
If you are interested in becoming a cargo or airline pilot, you should reach out to a flight school to learn more about the training, education, and career path to make it a reality for you. The good news is that both of these careers offer great pay, benefits, and are very rewarding for someone who loves piloting airplanes.
Best of luck on your journey to become a pilot!