A cargo pilot is literally someone who specializes in flying air freight from Point A to Point B, rather than passengers. But this doesn’t make their job any less important. Cargo pilots are responsible for moving highly-perishable foods, medicines and living creatures to their destinations in a timely manner. In places like Canada’s Arctic, they serve as lifelines to residents living in an area without roads, railways and – during the winter – water access via ships.
Depending on their career aspirations, a cargo pilot with a commercial licence can start soon after graduating flight school in basic one-engine aircraft, in a bid to build up their flying hours. Once these hours have been accumulated, they can gain training in multi-engine aircraft to fly on longer, better-paying routes. Ultimately, with enough flying hours and experience in various aircraft (propeller and jet), cargo pilots can work for major freight carriers; including courier companies such as Federal Express that fly dedicated aircraft on regularly scheduled flights.
Being a cargo pilot appeals to people who like to fly, but don’t want the responsibility (and occasional challenges) of dealing with passengers.
The job may require pilots to do a lot of red-eye (overnight flights), to get cargo to its destination in time for the morning ground crew to deal with it. The aircraft flown by cargo pilots also tend to be older than those flown by airline pilots.
How to Learn
There are a few ways to learn to become a professional pilot. All begin by obtaining a private pilot’s licence before moving into a specific career stream.
The traditional way to learn to fly is by enrolling at a flight school; either close to home or in another location. Training is usually full or part-time based on the student’s personal schedule, the training program and financial resources. The learning includes in-class training (ground school) and in-aircraft training (flight training).
Flight hours also matter. They are the amount of time the student spends flying. Many aviation jobs require licenced pilots to have accumulated a specific minimum amount of flight hours, before they will be considered for employment.
Across Canada, community colleges and universities are now teaching students to fly on a full-time or part-time basis; often in partnership with local flight schools. This option can offer an aspiring pilot a faster route to their licence, by fitting more education and training into a shorter time. But unless the student has access to some form of educational subsidies, the cost will be comparable over time to the flight school.
Many cargo pilots work as flight instructors to build up their flying hour totals to qualify them for more-demanding cargo piloting jobs. Alternatively, they can start flying cargo for companies with single-engine aircraft right after flight school.
With the right training, experience and flights hours, cargo pilots can find themselves flying older versions of top-line passenger aircraft. Although the pay is not as lucrative as that offered by the major airlines, a good cargo pilot can build a comfortable, well-paying career over time.
Typically the starting salary for a cargo pilot is $40,000-$60,000 per year. More seasoned cargo pilots may earn $150,000-$200,000 per year.
Depending on the educational choice, training to be a commercial pilot can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $75,000. These costs are for the basic training and Integrated ATPL. Once employed by an airline, training is usually covered by the employer.
Some provinces do offer subsidies/grants to help students pay for pilot training. Student loans may also be available from financial institutions.
Need More Information?
Visit the Pilot Career Centre Canada for information about about flight training, how to choose a flight school and listing of schools across Canada.
The Government of Canada also offers guidance on how to select a flight school and the steps needed to start training.