General aviation (GA) is all civilian flying except scheduled passenger airlines. It’s just that simple—and complex.
GA includes flying as diverse as a weekend visit back home and overnight package delivery; as different as emergency medical evacuation and a morning sightseeing flight in a balloon; as complementary as aerial application to keep crops healthy and helicopter traffic reports to keep drivers informed of rush-hour delays.
There are many similarities between how people use their automobiles and how GA pilots use their small aircraft. So if you know anything about how America’s roads and highways work, then you’re well on your way to understanding America’s air transportation system.
Like the family automobile, the family airplane (owned or rented) can provide mobility and pleasure, and it’s almost always a more enjoyable trip by air (after all, every route up there is scenic!). In fact, you might be surprised by just how similar your car is to an airplane.
The family airplane can triple the comfortable range of vacation travel while avoiding the stress and frustrations of heavy traffic. And, of course, the family breadwinners can use the same airplane to great advantage in business by virtue of its speed and flexibility. A common misconception leads some to think of personal or small business aircraft as only for the extremely wealthy. In fact, many people of middle-class means fly airplanes less costly to acquire than a new family car.
More and more people are discovering that general aviation is fast, efficient, and safe, opening a whole new vista of travel opportunities. For both business and personal travel, general aviation means going where you want to go (not just where the airlines go), when you want to go (free from airline schedules), and in whatever degree of privacy you desire. The payoff is greater transportation flexibility and productivity than any other mode of travel can provide.
An estimated 65 percent of GA flights are conducted for business and public services that need transportation more flexible than the airlines can offer. That flexibility can be a hometown businessman flying his own small airplane to see four clients on a one-day, 700-mile circuit, or it can be a CEO and five staff members working at 30,000 feet while en route to a major meeting.
Learning to fly general aviation aircraft is well within the capabilities of the average person, intellectually and physically. Even some disabilities—deafness, for instance—need not keep a person who really wants to fly out of the cockpit. And general aviation has an excellent safety record. More than 90 percent of the roughly 240,000 civil aircraft registered in the United States are GA aircraft. And of the nation’s approximately 625,000 pilots, an estimated 500,000 fly general aviation airplanes. (Incidentally, many airline pilots also fly GA aircraft—for the sheer fun of it!)
Source: AOPA Let's Go Flying!