We sat down with Boing 747 pilot Julie to separate the myths from the truth.
For Julie, aviation is a family affair. Her mother and father as well as her grandparents were both involved in aviation. Julie’s love of flying took flight when she started glider flying at the age of 16. She graduated from the CAE flight Academy and started as an airline pilot flying passengers around Europe. After four years she took on the new challenge of being a cargo pilot.
Now, let’s debunk some myths.
True or False: Cargo pilots live a weird life where they live by night and sleep by day.
Julie: That’s true: I do sleep during the day when I’m away on layovers because we never get a chance to fully adapt to the time zone we find ourselves in. Also, sometimes there’s no point to sleep during the night when you’re switching time zones.
True or False: Cargo pilots work longer duty hours than other pilots.
Julie: Not true. We have to comply with the same flight time limitations from IATA, so it can be long, but it can be just as long for passenger airline pilots. Anyway, we have two beds on board the aircraft to get rest if needed.
True or False: Being a cargo pilot is boring as there are no passengers and no crew.
Julie: That’s completely false. It’s not boring at all, it’s exciting. We have varied operations and have very interesting cargo like live horses or nice cars. We have to carry grooms to take care of the horses too, so it gets pretty busy. And I don’t miss the passengers too much because the boxes don’t complain.
True or False: Scheduled and on-time departures are less important for cargo pilots as it doesn’t matter as much with cargo.
Julie: For cargo flights, 99% of the time you can be delayed, whether it’s one hour or three. So that is true. However, delays do impact the next crew who will pick up the aircraft. Also, if you have live animals to carry or urgent cargo then you have to consider that.
True or False: Cargo pilots only fly old airplanes.
Julie: In general, it’s true because cargo aircraft don’t require the new passenger standards, but we also fly brand new Boeing 747s!
True or False: Cargo pilots don't wear uniforms because no one ever sees them.
Julie: That’s true and false. We have to be in uniform when we start duty. However when we have longer flights of 12- 13 hours, quite often we will change into, well not pajamas, but something more comfortable.
True or False: Cargo pilots are most exposed to dangerous goods and radiation.
Julie: We do carry dangerous goods that are not allowed to be carried by passenger aircraft and sometimes radioactive materials, but I’m not too worried about that. We have a lot of flights that go through higher latitudes so we’re more exposed to radiation. But we don’t always fly high because the aircraft is fairly heavy most of the times.
True or False: Cargo pilots have a girlfriend or a boyfriend at every port.
Julie: Ha…ha! No, I haven’t noticed anything like that yet.
True or False: Cargo pilots live like zombies during their days off and have very little social life.
Julie: Absolutely not. When I go home after flying it’s quite easy to go back to a normal life and sleep during the night. Especially when you’re younger like me. So that’s false.
True or False: Being a cargo pilot is boring as you spend sometimes more than a week with the same flight crew.
Julie: No not really. It’s always different. And I think it would be less boring to fly with the same person because you don’t have to make small talk every time.
True or False: Being a cargo pilot is a lonely job.
Julie: Not true. It really depends on the crew you’re flying with. It also depends on what you like to do on your layover, like having dinner with your colleagues. As cargo pilots, we also have hubs where there are always colleagues and something to do.
True or False: Cargo pilots have no roster stability.
Julie: We do have scheduled flights and chartered flights. But the schedules are constantly changing. Sometimes you have to carry cargo somewhere and they tell you that you have to stop in another spot before that.
True or False: Cargo pilots can have visible tattoos.
Julie: False. I’ve never met anyone in my company with a visible tattoo.
True or False: There are fewer female cargo pilots than airline pilots or private jets pilots.
Julie: That is true. In my company, women account for less than 3% of cargo pilots as opposed to 5% of passenger pilots.
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