Scroll Top

Differences Between Passenger pilot and Cargo Pilot


Probably, once you think about the pilot, the first image appearing in your mind could be a pilot stepping onto the aircraft to perform a flight. And somewhere in this image, there are always passengers concerned. however what concerns those pilots who don’t carry passengers?

Well, there are pilots who carry cargo. Air cargo is an extremely high-value business with thirty-five of the world trade value carried by air. However, the profession of a cargo pilot is slightly mysterious as we regularly associate aviation with passenger airlines and their pilots.

Furthermore, as passenger airlines, cargo ones also belong to commercial aviation. However, there are some questions that usually appear when talking regarding cargo airline pilots.

Do they have lower health requirements? What license one should get? What are the requirements? what are the pay and working conditions? etc. Here are some answers that may help you to better understand the cargo pilot profession.

Passenger pilot and Cargo Pilot licenses

Both pilots, either cargo or passengers, have identical goals and missions – to transport the content of their aircraft hull safely, from one place to a different place. That’s why the training remains the same and so do the skills.

Once you decide to become a passenger or cargo pilot, you must acquire a proper license. This can be achieved through 3 training routes – modular, integrated, or cadet program with an airline.

For example, by selecting a modular commercial pilot license (CPLA program), you’ll be able to divide your studies into modules. In this course, a Private Pilot Licence (PPLA) comes first then you proceed with the ATPL theory course.

The second possibility is to decide on an integrated ATPL(A) program to obtain a frozen ATPL. This program is intensive and, as a result, the quickest way to begin your type Rating.

However, obtaining a pilot cadet program with an airline is the most secure method of completing your training. it’s the same ATPL integrated training program for a pilot’s license except that the main advantage of it is a conditional employment guarantee from the airline before even beginning the training.

Medical Requirements

In order to become a pilot, you must acquire EASA first-class Medical Certificate. This certificate is a mandatory requirement for either cargo or passenger airline pilots, as both of them operate commercially.

Since you’ll be required to attend a medical assessment periodically, you need to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle in order to prolong your career.

Flight Hours

While every airline has its own specific requirements. Flying for a major cargo carrier lawfully requires the exact same flight time as flying for a passenger-carrying airline. This range depends on the particular airline.

For instance, the world’s largest courier service company, DHL, prefers candidates for their field officer position with professional flight expertise with no less than 1,000 hours. Another international logistics company, UPS, mandates a minimum of 1,500 hours of total fixed-wing pilot time to become a field officer.

According to the pilot job offers, the preference of required total flight time (TT) varies among different airlines. a number of them prefer candidates with 2,500 hours of TT, the others opt for candidates having 1,500-2,000 hours of TT.

Totally different requirements are applied to a cargo captain’s position. There you’ve got to get a minimum of 5,000 hours of TT and 500 hours of pilot in command. As you may have realized, there are a lot of flight hours to accumulate, even when you operate an aircraft full of boxes, not passengers.

Aircraft types

Both passenger airline and cargo pilots operate identical fixed-wing aircraft types (Boeing 737, 747, 767, 777, Airbus A300, A320, A330, etc.). the type of aircraft depends on the corporate you’re applying to.

Most freight corporations prefer the foremost popular models of Boeing and Airbus, the same ones used for passenger aircraft. In fact, almost all current cargo aircraft are derivatives or conversions of passenger aircraft. They’re sometimes designed and converted for the transport of cargo instead of passengers.

You may select your future cargo airline according to the type of aircraft in their fleet. DHL primarily uses Boeing 757-200F and Airbus A300-600RF for their operations in Europe. UPS is the second-largest operator of the Airbus A300 and additionally of Boeing 757-200PF.

The US-primarily based cargo airline FedEx Express is a fan of Boeing 757-200SF and Airbus A300-600 RF aircraft types. Mid-range cargo freighters in Europe largely opt for Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 for their short and mid-range routes.

As you’ll see, the types of cargo aircraft are the same as the ones utilized by passenger airlines. sometimes you can find a large aircraft that was originally designed to be an efficient freighter: Antonov An-225 Mriya, ready to contain up to 280 tons, or Boeing 747 Dreamlifter with its 113,4 tons of maximum payload capacity.

Working schedules

As a cargo pilot, you’ll end up flying on a variety of schedules. Domestic, international, 1-day trips, 14-days trips, all-daytime flying, all-night time flying, and every combination of these is available.

The main distinction between them is that cargo pilots mostly fly at nighttime. This implies that they have to work outside of their normal circadian rhythm and generally it can be quite difficult to manage fatigue. Luckily, cargo pilots tend to get more time off as a result.

They typically work on week on/week off patterns and it strongly helps them to recover. There’s a general opinion among cargo pilots that the foremost rewarding side of their profession is a large amount of their home time.


You may have heard that almost all pilots have free or reduced-rate travel privileges for themselves and their family members. In fact, flight benefits and discounts are very rare and small when you are a cargo pilot.

solely some of them get some little discounts for his or their own tickets. It only happens when a cargo pilot works for airlines that operate not only as a cargo carriers but additionally as a passenger carrier, for example, Lufthansa or Emirates.

However, nearly every cargo aircraft is prohibited from carrying non-employee passengers. the only privilege for cargo pilots is discounted shipping, offered by the main freight companies. Of course, there might be some privileges for your family members as well, however, no one desires to travel in a box…


After exploring some differences between cargo and passenger airline pilot jobs, you may ask the question „Do cargo pilots get paid higher than those flying for passenger carriers? “. Actually, the answer is sort of traditional – it depends.

The salary of cargo pilots is basically based on how long they have been within the business. How many hours they have flown if they’re FOs or PICs, and what type of aircraft do they operate.

there’s a large difference whether or not you operate a smaller aircraft or a large one, that is capable of crossing oceans and earning a considerably higher profit.

According to, FOs flying for the main freight corporations (FedEx, UPS, DHL) earn closer to 72,000 – 77,000 EUR a year on average. It slightly differs from what the passenger airline pilots make.

For instance, FOs of passenger airlines Lufthansa and Air France earn 76,000 – 77,000 EUR a year on average ( data). Keep in mind that these figures are meant to be used as a general guide and there’ll always be exceptions above or below the figures.

Every airline has its own pilot pay scales which can vary with the type of operation and aircraft type. As you may see now, the salaries of each passenger airline and cargo pilot differ slightly. However, expertise strongly influences the earnings for this job.

Flying cars or people?

Choosing between a career as a passenger pilot or a cargo pilot is ultimately less of a compensation matter as much as it is a matter of your preference. By assuming that the required information, skills, and training are identical for both, your choice depends on your perspective.

If your interest in aviation extends beyond simply “flying” and includes the “people” aspect of aviation. Then passenger operations are also a much better choice.

If you enjoy moving racing cars with Boeing 757-200SF freighter to places you’ve got never heard of. Then a career as a cargo pilot may be best. It may well be the most rewarding time if you have the correct attitude and enjoy what the job has to offer.

Related Posts