The general public is familiar with passenger airlines but not with cargo airlines. Some even find cargo airplanes quite mysterious.
When you go the airport, you rarely see cargo aircraft doing their thing. Usually, these airplanes are parked at a different bay, far from passenger terminals so people can hardly ever see them.
As a proud cargo pilot, I have heard quite a number of interesting questions from the curious public. Now, let me shed some light on the similarities and differences of cargo and passenger airlines.
A cargo and passenger airplane is basically the same except that the cargo airplane has more room for shipment. You can expect to see boxes, crates, and even pallet collars – go check http://kronuscollars.com/ if you haven’t seen one.
Inside the flight deck of a freighter and a passenger airplane, you could hardly distinguish any difference. The front office is actually the same. Flying a cargo plane is also same as piloting a passenger plane. Both of these aircraft require the same experience, license, and FAA Type Rating.
The major difference between these two types of airplanes is outside the cockpit. The most obvious difference lies with the door. A freighter obviously has a larger door as compared to passenger airline. This allows the quick loading and unloading of the shipment from the main deck. The curved doors under the main deck create extra space, allowing the lower deck to be loaded with more cargo. As can be expected with a freighter, every space is utilized for payload.
The variant of the Boeing 747 used by cargo airlines has a very special cargo door. It has a very large nose that when it is raised; it can accommodate very large loads such as vehicles, military tanks, and even smaller aircraft.
Inside the cabin, the familiar arrangement that you expect to see on a passenger airplane, such as seats, windows, and overhead storage, are all gone. It’s just an empty vacuum that is specially engineered for the efficient loading and unloading of freight. The interior is far from the convenient and luxurious interiors that you see in passenger airlines. The main deck has several rollers and latches where containers and pallets are latched into position.
Air freighters follow a strict schedule. Every minute counts, so cargo pilots need to be quick and agile. One full load can equate to thousands of customers whose shipments are expected to arrive at specified time. Usually, cargo jets have one or two stops.
Once at the airport stop, they are carefully inspected and fuel is reloaded. Experienced ground crews do things quickly, imagine NASCAR pit stops. After all the necessary checks are performed and passed, the freighter is given a go. It then heads to its destination to get the shipment delivered as scheduled.
Another main difference between the cargo and passenger airlines is that the former normally only has two crews – the Captain and the First officer. For some longer cargo trips, up to four crew members are on board the flight. In a regular passenger flight, you can expect a number of flight attendants, co-pilots, and other crew members. That’s not the case for cargo planes.