Cargo airliners are airliners. The weight and balance limitations on a passenger Boeing 777 is the exact same weight and balance limitations on the Cargo 777. Maximum landing weight: same. The equivalent Passenger variant to the Cargo 777 is the 777-200LR. They are identical except for the lack of seats and extra cargo door.
The airports that cargo airliners (and they are airliners, operated by airline pilots) fly to are the same airports that passenger planes go to. Lufthansa Cargo is based in Frankfurt. The same Frankfurt airport that anyone going to Frankfurt goes to (Unless you fly on Ryanair, They fly to Hahn – which they obscenely call “Frankfurt” even though it is 130km away from Frankfurt!)
Many cargo airline pilots have been in the industry every bit as long as passenger airline pilots. Heck, many cargo airline pilots have BEEN passenger airline pilots, but decided to move to a different company, perhaps for a better work/life balance, more money, or to be based closer to where they live. If you grew up in Memphis, Tennissee or Louisville Kentucky, guess which airline has a massive hub there? It’s not a Passenger Airline. Sometimes it’s more convenient to live close to work, instead of having to spend hours travelling by plane to start work (which is flying a plane) or even worse, being dumped 300 miles from home at 10pm and having to go to a hotel, instead of to your wife’s bed.
FedEx airlines actually pays their pilots more than many passenger airlines, especially the likes of Spirit, Allegiant, Southwest and so on.
“Cargo planes can be knocked around, boxes don’t complain” goes the myth.
Did you know that Passenger airliners are not permitted to carry some types of hazardous cargo? Stacks of Lithium Ion Batteries being one such item. These are often transported by cargo aircraft.
So are Race Horses.
I knew someone who was an animal handler for race horses who did racehorse flights a few times. Once, coming into Melbourne, I was listening to one of his flights coming inbound, and the pilots requested a longer final approach course than normal to keep the turns less steep. Horses get spooked by the stranges things, and throwing the aircraft around like a rally car is likely to make a horse unhappy. Unhappy horses sometimes injure themselves. These animals are often purchased for millions of dollars on the hopes they will win races and make money. Injured horses don’t win races. They get scratched from the event. You can’t compete in the Melbourne Cup if your horse broke it’s neck because DHL slammed their plane onto the runway at Melbourne Airport.
Lots of the contents of your local Supermarket comes from far away also. Fresh fruit and seafood seem to be relitavely common. Fruit bruises if it is mistreated. Seafood spoils or spills under lateral G.
Of course some cargo isn’t as sensitive. Boxes full of iPhones. Large pallets of canned food or corn flakes or other processed pre-packaged items.
There is a stereotype that Cargo pilots will seek out their optimum altitude, and sit there regardless of turbulence. While all the passenger airline pilots will be climbing and descending and asking for ride reports, scrambling to find some clear air, the Cargo pilots will be sitting there happily at optimum altitude burning hardly any fuel. The Air Traffic Controller will ask them for a ride report. “FedEx 11, What’s the ride like at Flight Level 370?” “Yeah it’s fine.” the Cargo crew reply. So the Passenger aircraft experiencing “Light Chop” climbs out of 29,000ft up to 37000, into the Medium turbulence that is far worse than what was happening down at 29000. “You said it was fine! It’s not fine!” … Fine for cargo though. They don’t have to serve drinks!
Cargo airlines like Fedex, UPS, Amazon Prime, Atlas, Polar, Lufthansa Cargo, Aerologic, DHL and so on are Part 121 airline carriers. They follow the exact same rules as Passenger airlines like British Airways, United, American, Delta, Qantas, Lufthansa not-cargo, Allegiant, Ryanair and the like. Pilot duty times. Pilot qualifications. Adhearance to Air Traffic Control and navigation standards. Approach minimums and stabilized approach criteria. The aircraft they operate are airliners. The same airliners that do (or in some cases, did) operate as passenger airliners. In many cases the aircraft that cargo airlines fly used to be passenger airliners, that have since been converted to a freight operations, essentially by having all the seats pulled out.
Freight airline pilots often need to be more self sufficient, given that the 2 of them may be the only people on board. Any pilot worth the job will pride themselves on a good landing, even if the only person there to see it is the other pilot with them in the cockpit.