In this earlier question I tentatively assume that GA means civil aircraft operations other than scheduled passenger transport - what I think of as "airliner" operation though it could include quite small aircraft operating a scheduled fare-paying passenger service.

It has been suggested to me that GA can sometimes or often be used to mean all aviation in general - perhaps in some contexts more than others.

I had thought that most people here used GA to mean aircraft operations other than scheduled service, but now I have my doubts.

So, is there an authoritative definition of GA in the USA (and elsewhere, or worldwide) or is it a vague and varyingly interpreted general phrase that I should avoid to prevent misunderstanding?

  • $\begingroup$ As you have shown, the term is used in different ways in different contexts. $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2015 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ It's definitely not "all but scheduled passenger service" -- I don't think anyone would class FedEx as general aviation. $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    Apr 1, 2015 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Tyler: Good point, Instead of writing a somewhat self-answering question I'll split my Q into a Q and an A and see what happens. $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2015 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ It is GAT (General air traffic) which actually means all aviation in general (except military and some test flights). $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2015 at 21:36

3 Answers 3


The FAA does not include a definition of General Aviation in CFR 14 (aka Federal Aviation Regulations) Part 1 (General Definitions and Abbreviations), but, from a functional perspective, in the US, GA is generally used to refer to any civilian operations falling outside of Part 121 and some Part 135 operations (Commuter and Charter Operations - regional feeders have and may still operate under this section if they can meet the requirements, as it is more relaxed and easy to comply with than part 121).

With respect to the FARs, it's important to remember that Part 91 covers ALL types of flight operations UNLESS its provisions are EXPLICITLY overriden by another paragraph (as would be the case with an air carrier's Operating Specifications, part 121, 135, and other sections dealing with more specialized aerial applications). Part 119 also deals, in a very general sense with conducting flight operations for compensation.

IMO, you're not likely to go wrong using the term to refer to everything civilian outside of scheduled carrier and medium/large cargo operations (e.g. Atlas, Evergreen, FedEx, UPS). The caveat is, of course, that GA operations are so diverse that this is more of an "everything else" category rather than the much clearer images conjured up by a flag/commutter/regional carrier or a large cargo operator. If you're unclear about whether a specific application or air operator falls under GA, go ahead and ask.

The FAA division of airports is more likely meant to reflect that certain airports have certain primary intended purposes (e.g. many of the nation's largest airports do not allow Part 91 operations, only air carriers) and may require certain types of infrastructure in order to allow them to perform those roles.

And yes, using a 737 as a personal plane under Part 91 would fall under GA - Boeing even makes a specialized version just for that, see the BBJ.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks +1, sorry for editing my Q out from under you while you were answering. I guess readers will work out that your 737 reference applies to a part of my Q that I moved into an answer :-) $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2015 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @RedGrittyBrick - no worries; also, with respect to your airport question, see FAR 139.5 for the FAA's actual definition of different airport types. $\endgroup$
    – habu
    Apr 1, 2015 at 17:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that that 737 would likely be a Part 125 (large aircraft) operation, not Part 91 -- there's also fractional ops under part 91K and ag spraying under part 137 $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2015 at 22:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @UnrecognizedFallingObject - with respect to aircraft operation, Part 125 supplements Part 91 - Subpart J deals with and clarifies a number of items that would not typically be an issue in smaller aircraft, but your point is well taken in that operating a 73- under Part 91 would also have to comply with additional requirements in other paragraphs (or subpart K, if a fractional op). $\endgroup$
    – habu
    Apr 2, 2015 at 15:31

In common parlance, "General Aviation" typically means "not-airline".

In the Pilot/Controller Glossary, the FAA now defines General Aviation as:

That portion of civil aviation that does not include scheduled or unscheduled air carriers or commercial space operations.

and it gives the ICAO definition:

All civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services and nonscheduled air transport operations for remuneration or hire.

Both these definitions are closely tied to commercial operations, and they go out of their way to point out that non-scheduled air carriers are NOT general aviation. Note that "civil aviation" would mean "not military".

Historically the term has been very colloquial, and to some extent you will still find different definitions from everyone. However, IMHO these are the most clear definitions available.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, technically "not airline, and not military", but yeah. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Calphool
    Apr 1, 2015 at 19:42

The term "General Aviation" is used differently by different organisations.

It may be best to either avoid it or only use it where it's meaning will be clear to international or non-expert readers.

From what I've read,

Use vs Type

These sorts of classification apply to the use (i.e. "operation") rather than to the aircraft type (make and model) - you could use a 737 as a personal airplane and your use would not be governed by regulations that apply to 737s operated by typical airlines for scheduled passenger transport.

FAR lore

I've read people say that, in the USA, GA means anything under FAR 91 and FAR 135 but scheduled airliners come under FAR 121 (I may have the numbers wrong, please correct)

AOPA say "General aviation (GA) is all civilian flying except scheduled passenger airlines."

ICAO define general aviation as all civil operations other than scheduled air services (plus a bit of hand-waving)

Transport Canada say "General aviation (GA) is all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services and non-scheduled air transport operations for remuneration or hire".

FAA divide airport operation into Commercial Service, Cargo Service, Reliever and everything else "commonly described as General Aviation Airports". But I couldn't find an FAA definition that applied specifically to the aircraft (or to aircraft operations other than at an airport).

EASA seem to define operations primarily into Commercial Air Transport (CAT) and Non-Commercial (NC) and use the phrase "general aviation" in a more general all-encompassing sense.


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