By Seerat Arora 21 Jun 2024 5 min read

How to Become a Cargo Pilot

Senior Captains and First Officers for Fed Ex can make as much as $326,000 and $226,000, respectively.

A career as a cargo pilot has its challenges but the journey is rewarding. They require a unique combination of cargo pilot qualifications, skills, determination, and a growing passion for flying. These experienced pilots are a crucial part of global economic growth as they transport vital supplies and goods to every part of the world.

Global supply chains depend on cargo pilots, as their responsibilities include the assurance of smooth and on-time delivery of various types of cargo, like fragile items, perishable foods, life-saving medical equipment, important manufacturing parts, emergency supplies, etc.

Understanding the Role of a Cargo Pilot

Cargo operations, unlike other flights, are often ongoing during the night or early morning hours, as pilots aim to minimize airport congestion and increase efficient productivity. In some cases, cargo pilots have to navigate and land in unplanned situations. Managing such scenarios requires unique skills, proper preparation, and an in-depth understanding of what needs to be done.

The first step is to understand the requirements to be a cargo pilot:

  • High proficiency in technical aspects of the flight
  • Exceptional problem-solving abilities
  • Physical and mental stamina
  • A strong sense of responsibility
  • Can be trusted with the safety and efficient delivery of the cargo
  • Good decision-making skills in case of emergencies
  • Can navigate the challenges of international rules and regulations
  • Ability to seamlessly undergo custom protocols
  • Should be able to manage global logistics operations
  • Can smoothly collaborate with ground crews, air traffic controllers, and logistics managers

A cargo pilot's role requires trustworthiness with the safety and system of delivery, as their actions and decisions can have a huge impact on communities, lives, businesses, and even entire economies. 

Their job is far bigger than the cockpit, they have to have the ability to establish a productive collaboration with air traffic controllers, ground crew, and logistics managers to make sure the delivery of goods throughout the world is smooth and seamless.

With the number of imports and exports across borders these days, the importance and demand for cargo pilots are only rising. They play an essential role in intercontinental trade, humanitarian endeavors, and the advancements in fast-delivery technologies for supplies especially in cases of emergency. Mostly unnoticed, people don’t know how big an impact cargo pilots have on daily lives across the globe.

So, let’s discuss the process, training, qualifications, responsibilities, and requirements to be a cargo pilot. We will also talk about career growth and opportunities as a cargo pilot. Whether you are aspiring to become a cargo pilot or generally interested in knowledge about cargo flights, we can offer you an in-depth understanding of the cargo aviation world and what is it like being a part of it.

Time Taken in Becoming a Cargo Pilot

How long does it take to become a cargo pilot? This time can vary depending on several factors, including your prior flight experience and the amount of time you can dedicate to your training. On average, becoming a senior cargo pilot can take around 5-10 years of experience.

Educational and Licensing Requirements

You must meet the following cargo pilot qualifications:

  • Age: You must be at least 23 years old.
  • Education: You must have a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Flight Training: You must have a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), and accumulate a minimum of 250 hours of flight time.
  • Certifications: You must hold an instrument rating and a multi-engine rating.
  • Medical Certifications: You must pass a medical examination and hold a valid medical certificate.
  • Background Checks: You must pass a background check.
  • Cargo Pilot License: To be a cargo pilot, you must earn a cargo pilot license. This license is issued by your country’s aviation authority and requires you to meet specific cargo pilot qualifications and requirements.

Flight Training and Experience

In the process of becoming a cargo pilot, you have to complete your ground school and flying hours.

Ground school training involves the study of navigation, regulations, weather, and aircraft systems. And, flight training is all about accumulating flying hours and flying several types of aircraft to gain flight experience.

These necessary skills and hours can also be gained through flight instructing or flying chartering planes.

Industry Prospects and Career Growth

After answering how to become a cargo pilot, it’s time to talk about the career prospects. The industry for cargo pilots is very competitive, but so are the demands, hence there are many job opportunities. Fresher cargo pilots usually fly smaller aircraft like Beech 1900 or Cessna 208 Caravan.

More experienced cargo pilots with more hours behind them get to fly larger aircraft like MD-11 or Boeing 777. They can also grow their career by becoming a check airman, a captain, or getting into the management system.  

Life as a Cargo Pilot

Cargo pilots often have a similar type of daily schedule and responsibilities, which include:

  • Pre-flight checks, 
  • Flight planning, 
  • In-flight management,
  • And, ensuring the safe and efficient transportation of cargo. 

Uncertain schedules and nearly constant travel can take a toll on a cargo pilot. But, the opportunity to see the world, talk to people from different cultures, and a passion for adventure can easily attract a person. 


Cargo pilot jobs entail many responsibilities, including managing cargo, flying large aircraft, and ensuring the safety and transportation of the goods. It could seem overwhelming, but going through the process of becoming a cargo pilot is a rewarding but challenging journey.   

Hopefully, we have successfully answered your questions - how to become a cargo pilot? And how long does it take to become a cargo pilot? If you wish to know more about pilot jobs, you can visit our website.