The working of cargo flights is not known to the general public, unlike passenger flights, which are familiar to everyone. That is because most people must have travelled in a passenger flight once in their lifetime or would have at least visited an air terminal. Those who have not travelled in a passenger flight will be still familiar with it, thanks to movies and television channels.
Compared to domestic flights cargo flights are a bit different. They are often stationed away from passenger terminals so the general public is oblivious of its day-to-day operations.
Pilots who fly domestic flights can also fly cargo flights. The difference is that the reward offered by the big cargo airlines is competitive and sometimes even higher than that of these flights. This is because cargo companies enjoy high revenue margins, even in tough economic times. That is why many pilots consider the job of flying cargo flights an attractive career choice.
Cargo airlines fly the same common models of heavy jets but in a cargo configuration. Some of the leading aircraft manufactures have cargo versions of their popular passenger flights. Older passenger jets are also used as cargo flights by converting them into freighters in a broad renovation process. After the renovation they will be as good as new for cargo service.
The flight deck of a freighter is almost similar to the flight deck of the passenger model. Piloting a freighter is similar to flying a passenger flight. Both pilots need to have special license and similar experience.
However, the similarity ends with the cockpit. The most observable external facet on a freighter is the large cargo door on the side. The large door is fixed for easy loading and unloading of cargo from the main deck. There are also large belly doors under the main deck for the same purpose. Every inch of available space is used for freight.
Just like this, time and schedules are fixed and followed to the T by cargo flight operators. A cargo flight normally makes at least one stop before arriving at its target in the early morning. At each stop, a ground crew comprising mechanics, loaders, tug drivers and fuel trucks take charge and do their work as quickly as possible. The flight crew makes use of this time to complete checklists, review the weather, and load new data into the navigation system. All the work is completed 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. When there is only 5 minutes for departure, all the vehicles will exit and a tug is hooked to the jet’s front wheel, ready to push the aircraft back to the taxiway.
For short distance cargo flights there will be only two crew members – a captain and first officer. Long distance cargo flights will have three or four crew members just like a passenger flight.