What is General Aviation

General aviation (GA) is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as all civil aviation aircraft operations with the exception of commercial air transport or aerial work, which is defined as specialized aviation services for other purposes. However for statistical purposes ICAO uses a definition of general aviation which includes aerial work.

General aviation thus represents the “private transport” and recreational components of aviation.


The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defines civil aviation aircraft operations in three categories: General Aviation (GA), Aerial Work (AW) and Commercial Air Transport (CAT). Aerial work operations are separated from general aviation by ICAO by this definition. Aerial work is when an aircraft is used for specialized services such as agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, observation and patrol, search and rescue, and aerial advertisement. However for statistical purposes ICAO includes aerial work within general aviation, and has proposed officially extending the definition of general aviation to include aerial work, to reflect common usage.The proposed ICAO classification includes instructional flying as part of general aviation (non-aerial-work).

The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) refers to the category as General Aviation/Aerial Work (GA/AW) to avoid ambiguity. Their definition of General Aviation includes:

  • Corporate Aviation: Company own-use flight operations
  • Fractional Ownership Operations: aircraft operated by a specialized company on behalf of two or more co-owners
  • Business Aviation (or Travel): self-flown for business purposes
  • Personal/Private Travel: travel for personal reasons/personal transport
  • Air Tourism: self-flown incoming/outgoing tourism
  • Recreational Flying: powered/powerless leisure flying activities
  • Air Sports: Aerobatics, Air Races, Competitions, Rallies etc.

General aviation thus includes both commercial and non-commercial activites.

IAOPA’s definition of Aerial Work includes but is not limited to:[3]

  • Agricultural Flights, including crop dusting
  • Banner Towing
  • Fire Fighting
  • Medical Evacuations
  • Pilot Training
  • Search and Rescue
  • Sight Seeing Flights
  • Skydiver Hoisting
  • Transplant Organ Transports

Commercial Air Transport includes:

  • Scheduled Air Services
  • Non-Scheduled Air Transport
  • Air Cargo Services
  • Air Taxi Operations

However in some countries Air Taxi is regarded as being part of GA/AW.

Private flights are made in a wide variety of aircraft: light and ultra-light aircraft, sport aircrafthomebuilt aircraftbusiness aircraft (like private jets), gliders and helicopters. Flights can be carried out under both visual flight (VFR) and instrument flight (IFR) rules, and can use controlled airspace with permission.

The majority of the world’s air traffic falls into the category of general aviation, and most of the world’s airports serve GA exclusively. Flying clubs are considered a part of general aviation.