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General aviation (GA) is one of two categories of civil aviation. It refers to all flights other than military and scheduled airline flights, both private and commercial. General aviation flights range from gliders and powered parachutes to large, non-scheduled cargo jet flights. As a result, the majority of the world's air traffic falls into this category, and most of the world's airports serve general aviation exclusively.

In the United Statesmarker, there are almost 20,000 airports and heliports, of which around 5,300 are available for public use by pilots of general aviation aircraft. In comparison, scheduled flights operate from around 600 airports in the U.S. According to the U.S. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, general aviation provides more than one percent of the United States' GDP, accounting for 1.3 million jobs in professional services and manufacturing.

General aviation covers a huge range of activities, both commercial and non-commercial, including private flying, flight training, air ambulance, police aircraft, aerial firefighting, air charter, bush flying, gliding, and many others. Experimental aircraft, light-sport aircraft and very light jets have emerged in recent years as new trends in general aviation.

Regulation and safety

Most countries have authorities that oversee all civil aviation, including general aviation, adhering to the standardized codes of the International Civil Aviation Organizationmarker (ICAO). Examples include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United Statesmarker,the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Great Britainmarker, the Luftfahrt-Bundesamtmarker (LBA) in Germanymarker, and Transport Canada in Canadamarker.

Since it includes both non-scheduled commercial operations and private operations, with aircraft of many different types and sizes, and pilots with a variety of different training and experience levels, it is not possible to make blanket statements about the regulation or safety record of general aviation. At one extreme, in most countries business jets and large cargo jets face most of the same regulations as scheduled air transport and fly mostly to the same airports. Commercial bush flying and air ambulance operations normally do not operate under as heavy a regulatory burden, and often only use small airports or off-airport strips, where there is less governmental oversight.

Aviation accident rate statistics are necessarily estimates. According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, in 2005 general aviation in the United States (excluding charter) suffered 1.31 fatal accidents for every 100,000 hours of flying in that country, compared to 0.016 for scheduled airline flights. In Canada, recreational flying accounted for 0.7 fatal accidents for every 100,000 hours, while air taxi accounted for 1.0 fatal accident for every 100,000 hours.

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