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International Forwarding Association Blog » Air freight in Europe » How Pilot Preferences Shape Air Cargo and Freight Forwarding

How Pilot Preferences Shape Air Cargo and Freight Forwarding

In the competitive landscape of aviation, pilots’ preference for passenger airlines over cargo operations is shaped by factors such as career development, training opportunities, and quality of life. This preference not only impacts the career trajectories of many pilots but also influences the operations of ground freight forwarders.


Career Development

The appeal of passenger airlines largely stems from the wide range of career development opportunities available. Pilots in passenger aviation have the chance to fly a variety of aircraft, from smaller jets suited for regional services to larger aircraft designed for international flights. This variety enables pilots to familiarize themselves with various aviation technologies. Moreover, the route networks of passenger airlines often cover more destinations which allows pilots to gain experience with a variety of flying conditions.

In contrast, pilots in commercial aviation have experience with a narrow variety of aircraft. This is because airlines primarily focus on utilizing specialized cargo aircraft and cargo-configured aircraft originally designed for passenger service. They also operate on less diverse networks due to the strategic placement of industrial and commercial hubs. This can lead to repetitive routes that offer less exposure to a wide range of flying experiences.


Training Programs

Passenger airlines offer a variety of training programs that go beyond the basic requirements for flying. These programs can include advanced simulation training for specific aircraft types, crew resource management, and emergency response preparedness, among others. In contrast, cargo pilot training is narrower and mainly focused on the efficiency and safety of cargo delivery. It can include specialized loading techniques, freight security procedures, and the transport of hazardous materials.


Quality of Life

Pilots with passenger carriers usually have predictable schedules, as flights follow established timetables based on passenger demand. Airlines operate on fixed routes with flights scheduled at consistent times, which enables pilots to anticipate their workdays and off days in advance. Additionally, to enhance passenger satisfaction, these flights mainly occur during the daytime, which offers pilots a routine mirroring a conventional workday.

Contrastingly, cargo pilots navigate a less predictable schedule. As European cargo airlines must respond swiftly to market demands, this can lead to changes in scheduling and routes with less notice. Moreover, cargo flights are frequently timed at night to bypass busy air traffic and airport congestion. This results in more irregular working hours for pilots.


The Freight Forwarders’ Response to Pilot Shortages

The preference of pilots for passenger airlines strains cargo operations with notable pilot shortages. This shortage often results in unpredictable cargo flight availability and leads forwarders to deal with frequent scheduling adjustments and limited cargo capacity. As a consequence, forwarders may be forced to resort to last-minute logistical solutions. They might secure spot market air freight, which involves purchasing cargo space on flights at the last minute, often at premium rates. Additionally, they can utilize integrated transport, such as combining air and truck transport, to transport cargo to a less crowded regional airport where air transport is available.