What Does A Cargo Pilot Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Cargo Pilots

Cargo Pilots are licensed pilots who fly cargo aircraft for shipping companies or postal services. As with Passenger Pilots, Cargo Pilots fly a variety of aircraft and work alternating schedules.

Interest Match

If you want to fly airplanes but dislike the idea of transporting a plane full of passengers, you may prefer working as a Cargo Pilot. Cargo Pilots also tend to receive more time off, which can make it easier to manage a healthy work/life balance.

Many people are familiar with the basic duties of Passenger Airline Pilots, but Cargo Pilots remain a little more mysterious. It is a side of the airline industry that most people rarely encounter. Before embarking on this career, you may want to learn more about the job duties and benefits of being a Cargo Pilot.

What they do

Cargo Pilots are licensed pilots who fly cargo aircraft for shipping companies or postal services. As with Passenger Pilots, Cargo Pilots fly a variety of aircraft and work alternating schedules.

Fly Cargo Aircraft Between Various Destinations

The main responsibility of a Cargo Pilot is to transport cargo on large aircraft. They fly solely from one airport to another. Depending on the employer, Cargo Pilots may fly domestically or internationally.

Cargo Pilots typically fly to private airfields, instead of busy commercial airports. However, they fly the same airplanes flown by commercial airline pilots. The planes are often modified to transport cargo by removing the passenger seating areas and extending the cargo section.

Coordinate with Maintenance Crew Before Each Flight

As with commercial flights, cargo flights require inspections. A maintenance crew inspects the aircraft before departure. They check for wear and tear, defects, and other issues. They also check the battery, avionics equipment, and cockpit to ensure that all systems are functioning properly.

The Cargo Pilot is required to perform a preflight check. If any issues are found, the maintenance crew attempts to resolve the issue to minimize any delays.

The Cargo Pilot often needs to coordinate with the maintenance crew. They may even walk around the plane with the maintenance crew to verify their inspection checklist.

Perform Basic Airplane Maintenance

Junior Cargo Pilots and those working for smaller companies are more likely to need to perform basic airplane maintenance. While the maintenance crew handles major tasks, such as repairing electronics systems and refueling the plane, Cargo Pilots may need to deice the windows on the cockpits.

Coordinate with Air Traffic Controllers

Before departure, during the flight, and during landing, the Cargo Pilot remains in communication with Air Traffic Controllers. They must request permission to land in airfields and check with the controllers to verify any changes in flight plans that may impact the flight paths of other airplanes.

Inspect Cargo and Storage Systems

Before each flight, the Cargo Pilot inspects the cargo and storage systems to ensure that everything is safe and secure.

What is the job like


You Do Not Need to Deal with Passengers

Cargo Pilots transport cargo, which means that they do not need to deal with unruly passengers and other hassles associated with commercial air travel.

You Rarely Fly to Major Airports

Cargo Pilots mostly fly between private airfields operated by the companies that they work for, eliminating the need to land at busy airports.

You Get Long Breaks Between Shifts

Cargo Pilots frequently work alternating schedules with an entire week off between the next block of scheduled flights.

You Can Use Your Skills to Seek Other Jobs

If you grow tired of flying cargo aircraft, you can use your skills to work as a Commercial Airline Pilot or a Private Pilot.


You Spend Long Hours in the Sky

Cargo Pilots work long hours, often spending 12 hours on the clock each day.

You Are More Likely to Fly at Night

Cargo Pilots may need to adapt to a different sleep schedule, as they typically fly at night instead of during the day.

Where they work

Freight and shipping
Federal postal services
Passenger airlines

Cargo Pilots often work for freight and shipping companies, such as FedEx and UPS. They may also work for the United States Postal Service (USPS). Major manufacturers occasionally employ Cargo Pilots to transport materials between facilities. Cargo Pilots often spend most of their work hours in the sky, flying cargo aircraft between airports across the country. Some Cargo Pilots choose to switch to the passenger airline industry, as the skills needed for both careers are transferable.

How to become one

Step 1: Learn More About Aerodynamics and Flight in High School

High school students can learn more about this career by studying the principles of flight and aerodynamics.

Step 2: Obtain a Private Pilot’s License

Enroll in a flight school to earn a private pilot’s license. Training and earning a license typically take about six months. Along with a Private Pilot’s License, you may need a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating, a Commercial License, and a Multi-Engine rating.

Step 3: Become an Airline Commuter Pilot or Instructor

To become a Cargo Pilot, you typically need at least 3,000 hours of flight time. Cargo Pilots often earn the required flight time by working as Airline Commuter Pilots or Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs).

Step 4: Apply for a Cargo Pilot Position

After reaching the required hours of flight time, begin applying for open positions at transport and shipping companies.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Builder

People with this personality type likes practical and hands-on work. They prefer working with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

One of the most important personality traits for Cargo Pilots is the ability to remain calm and collected under pressure. Cargo Pilots also require strong communication skills when interacting with air traffic controllers, flight crew, and passengers. Most Cargo Pilots are analytical, logical thinkers, as learning to fly involves a lot of technical skills and knowledge. Reliability is also a useful trait, as Cargo Pilots are responsible for ensuring that deliveries reach their destinations on time.

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