5 Ways We All Use General Aviation in the United States

If you haven’t yet seen the documentary One Six Right you should do that now. Bob Hoover has the power to make anyone feel at least a bit of passion towards aviation, specifically, general aviation (GA). By the end of this movie you’ll be itching for your first solo flight.

But what even is general aviation? Well it turns out that not too many pilots can give a clear definition of GA. It’s a term that is used rather loosely and, in many ways, encompasses a lot more than most people expect. General aviation is basically all flight operations that do not involve commercial transportation (i.e. your $500 flight to the Bahamas last month), or other scheduled and hired air services.

Loose definition, right? Well, the lack of specificity in the definition is actually a great example of just how big GA is. From cargo transport to parachuting, and almost everything in between, below, and above is all considered general aviation.

Okay, cool. So we now know that general aviation is so large it’s actually hard to define. But who cares? If you want to make a pilot angry, just ask them that question — who cares? I guarantee they’ll go red in the face and start spitting out pilot words most of us don’t understand. This happens almost daily at my house. Well I’m here to tell you that you should care! Because you actually cash in on general aviation daily.

Who uses General Aviation?

Everyone! Every single person in the US is impacted by General aviation each day. You might be thinking, “I’m not a pilot … why do I care about small aircraft flights?”. You’re not alone for thinking this. Before I began dating a pilot I didn’t give a second, or even a single, thought to small time airplanes. Actually, the only time I thought about aviation in general was when I was getting ready for a vacation flight on some big commercial airline (which isn’t even general aviation). So no, on a day to day basis most people don’t think about general aviation as being an important part of their life. But you’ll be surprised to see just how much GA does in fact impact each of us daily. Here are a few ways GA impacts everyone and why we need to do everything we can to protect GA in the United States.

1) Every pilot starts in a general aviation aircraft.

Shocking fact — airline pilots didn’t learn to fly on a giant jet. The captain of your $500 flight to the Bahamas started in the same places as every other pilot, which always gives young, new pilots a lot of hope. They too can one day fly big, big planes. But for now, they’ll have to stick to the smaller GA airplanes that every pilot learns on. And where would this world be if we didn’t have airline pilots? Well we’d probably all be at home not experiencing the wonderful wide world we live in. According to the Department of Transportation, in 2016 there were 373,627 Scheduled domestic flight departures from Chicago O’Hare airport alone. That is a lot of flights. Those flights carried over 31 million passengers around the United States. Who flew those planes? Pilots that learned on a GA aircraft. So the next time you board that big ol’ plane bringing you to your next destination just remember that without accessible general aviation your pilot wouldn’t be there. Even though commercial airlines aren’t working directly in general aviation, they are still heavily impacted by it. But aviation goes way beyond the airlines, and all pilots had to learn on a GA aircraft, which brings us to our second reason for loving GA.

2) Air Ambulance and aerial firefighting are both considered general aviation.

That’s right, that life-saving flight from the accident to the hospital is considered general aviation. Medical air serves can be anything from a helicopter transporting an injured person, to a small aircraft transporting organs for a vital surgery 3 cities over. It’s hard to really know just how many flights occur annually that have to do with air medical services. But the practice was used during World War I and was imperative during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Many argue that the need for air medical isn’t too important any more, but a lot of people still see the value in it. I for one am grateful to know that if I were to get into a life-threatening accident the resources are there to help save my life, even if that means having to fly several miles to a hospital that can appropriately handle my case.

But not only are Medical flights considered general aviation, so is aerial firefighting. This is a practice I would find hard to argue against. This past summer alone there were many wild fires surrounding the small valley I currently live in, and the local airport had firefighting planes on standby ready to go if the fires got too close to the city. Luckily the fires didn’t cause too much damage, but there are many cases where forest fires have gotten out of hand and destroyed lands. Just imagine the damage these fires could do if we didn’t have aerial firefighting ready to go at the sight of smoke.

3) Bush Piloting is also considered general aviation.

The first time I heard the term “bush piloting” I was very confused. My brain went wild trying to figure out what the heck a pilot would need to do in a bush. But the more I learned the more I realized how important bush piloting really is, and no, it’s not pilots flying their planes into literal bushes. Bush piloting refers to any flying that is done in the remote wilderness. For example, Alaska. There is a surprising amount of places in Alaska, and other places of the US, that are only accessible by aircraft. The people living in these places rely on general aviation bush pilots to bring them the resources they need to survive. Bush piloting is a special skill that typically involve some pretty dangerous flying. There are a few shows and plenty of documentaries that show just how dangerous bush piloting is. For many though, it’s not just a cool type of flying but a necessity. In many of these back country areas bush pilots are the only way for residents to gain access to food, clean water, medical services, and, in some cases, outside human contact.

4) Crop Dusting falls in the realm of general aviation.

That corn you just ate was probably treated by a crop duster. In fact, most of what we eat daily is treated by a crop duster. Crop dusting isn’t just the application of pesticides. Agricultural planes can be used to distribute fertilizer, to sow seeds, and to water plants. The use of aircrafts in agriculture allows for a large area to be treated in a small amount of time, removing a lot of dangerous and tedious work for farmers, while increasing the chances of good, healthy crops. As the world’s population continues to grow, I don’t foresee a time where we won’t need mass amount of crops. I also don’t foresee a time where us computer bums go out to the fields to do what a crop duster can do in a fraction of the time. I’m lazy and want my corn watered for me, thank you very much. But I won’t forget the awesome crop dusting pilots who watered that corn for me. Agricultural aviation doesn’t just involve food. That cotton shirt you’re wearing was brought to you by general aviation. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, we use general aviation every day.

5) General Aviation actually brings in a lot of cash.

Do you think that small airport down the road from you is annoying? I mean, how many people actually use such a small airport in a day, right? Are you sick of hearing that loud aircraft fly over your yard while you soak up the sun? Well get over it, because those planes and that airport is bringing in the big bucks. The Alliance for Aviation Across America are doing an ongoing study to look at the economic impact general aviation has on communities across the nation. Their numbers are a bit shocking. I, who was thrown into the world of aviation (a bit unwillingly), quickly learned that GA is a big deal to local economies, but I didn’t realize just how big of a deal it really is. On the AAAA website you can see this cool map of the United States, and when you scroll over any state you can see the statistics for that particular state. Below I’ll list some of the states. I’ve picked a few at random, but look over the numbers and let them sink in. Hopefully you’ll realize that just because you don’t use that small airport doesn’t mean others don’t.

Illinois: 98 airports, 42,400 jobs $9 Billion total economic impact.

New York: 108 airports, 37,800 jobs, $7 Billion total economic impact.

Florida: 106 airports, 64,512 jobs, $7.7 Billion total economic impact.

California: 215 airports; 139,100 jobs, $30.3 Billion total economic impact.

Washington: 119 airports, 248,000 jobs, $50.9 Billion total economic impact.

Kansas: 138 airports, 23,266 jobs, $5.4 Billion total economic impact.

Texas: 391 airports, 56,000 jobs, 14.5 Billion total economic impact.

General aviation actually is a big deal, and obviously you don’t have to be a pilot to feel it’s daily impact. These are just a few ways general aviation affects all of us. Aviation is an awesome world, and not just for pilots (fun fact, I’m not a pilot!). So check out your local airport, take a little discovery flight, and learn just how much that local airport helps your community.