General Aviation (GA) is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as "all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services and non-scheduled air transport operations for remuneration or hire". The category also is sometimes called general aviation and aerial work (GA/AW).
GA and aerial work encompass a wide range of activities. Recreational flying, which includes balloon, glider and sport aircraft operations, accounts for about one-quarter for the GA sector’s 40 million annual flight hours. Other GA/ASW activities including the following:
- Pilot training
- Business aviation
- Agriculture including crop spraying
- Emergency medical services, such as the transport of dangerously ill individuals and of urgently needed human organs, medical equipment and medicines
- Monitoring ground traffic movements from the air
- Civil search and rescue
- Law enforcement and fire fighting
- Aerial survey work
- Aerial photography
- News gathering
- Sightseeing or air tours
- Flight demonstrations
Approximately 350,000 aircraft and 700,000 pilots are involved in these activities worldwide, according to IAOPA Europe, which is the European branch of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA).
In the United States, which is likely the world’s largest single aviation market, an estimated 65% of GA flights are conducted for business and public services; more than 90% of the approximately 220,000 civil aircraft registered in the U.S. are GA aircraft and more than 80% of the 609,000 pilots certificated in the U.S. fly GA aircraft, according to the U.S.-based AOPA.
Business aviation, which is generally defined as the use of any GA aircraft for a business purpose, is the largest of GA/AW activities. In the U.S., where the majority of the world’s business aircraft are operated, serviced and maintained, business aviation contributes $150 billion annually to the economy, according to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).
As in commercial air transport, among the leading causes of fatal GA accidents are loss of control-inflight and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). System/component failure – powerplant, system/component failure – non-powerplant, midair collisions and unintended flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), also are among the top causes of fatal accidents in general aviation.
In fiscal year 2017 (which for the U.S. government is the year ended 30 September 2017) the GA fatal accident rate was 0.84 per 100,000 flight hours.
By comparison, the international scheduled airline fatal accident rate in 2019 was 0.17 fatal accidents per million flight hours, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).