Type of Flight

Type of Flight


This article gives an overview of the terms used to describe different types of flights and their classification. It provides definitions and examples for clarification.


International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) classifies civil aviation activities as:

  • Commercial air transport services
    • Scheduled
    • Non-scheduled
      • Charter
      • On demand (air-taxi, commercial business aviation, other)
      • Other
  • General Aviation (GA)
    • Non-commercial business aviation
    • Instructional flying
    • Pleasure flying
    • Aerial work (agriculture, construction, surveying, photography, advertisement, SaR, etc.)
    • Other flying

Note that business aviation can be either commercial or GA depending on whether or not there is a charge for the service provided. For example, a corporate jet used to transport the company executives is considered non-commercial business aviation. If the same jet with the same crew was used to transport other people for a fee, this would be commercial business aviation.

It should also be noted that general aviation is not a synonym for general air trafficGeneral Air Traffic (not an ICAO term), by definition, is all flights conducted in accordance with the rules and procedures of ICAO, i.e. general aviation is a part of GAT.


EASA clasifies civil aviation activities:

  • As commercial or non-commercial, based on the presence of remuneration;
  • As air transport or specialised operation, based on the activity performed;
  • As performed by complex motor-powered or other-than-complex motor-powered based on the aircraft used for the activity.

Commercial Operations[edit | edit source]

A commercial operation is any operation of an aircraft, in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration, which is available to the public or, when not made available to the public, which is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator.

In short, if a service is provided for a charge using an aircraft, this is a commercial operation.

CAT means an aircraft operation to transport passengers, cargo or mail for remuneration or other valuable consideration., i.e. CAT is a type of commercial operations.

The other type of commercial operations is commercial specialised operations. These are specialised operations (see next section) which are conducted for a charge.

Specialised operations (SPO)[edit | edit source]

SPO is any operation other than CAT where the aircraft is used for specialised activities such as:

  • agriculture
  • construction
  • photography
  • surveying
  • observation and patrol
  • aerial advertisement

Note that commercial operations and specialised operations are not exclusive, i.e. an SPO can be a commercial operation but it also can be a non-commercial operation. For example, an agriculture work, if done by a farmer on their own farm, would be non-commercial. If the same farmer did the same activity on a neighbour's farm for a fee, this would be a commercial operation (but not a CAT since no transportation takes place).

Non-commercial Operations[edit | edit source]

Any operation that does not fall within the definition of commercial operation is non-commercial. These operation are divided into:

  • non-commercial with complex motor-powered aircraft (NCC)
  • non-commercial with other-than-complex motor-powered-aircraft (NCO)

The definition of complex motor-powered aircraft is:

  • an aeroplane:
    • with a maximum certificated take-off mass exceeding 5 700 kg, or
    • certificated for a maximum passenger seating configuration of more than nineteen, or
    • certificated for operation with a minimum crew of at least two pilots, or
    • equipped with (a) turbojet engine(s) or more than one turboprop engine, or
  • a helicopter certificated:
    • for a maximum take-off mass exceeding 3 175 kg, or
    • for a maximum passenger seating configuration of more than nine, or
    • for operation with a minimum crew of at least two pilots, or
  • a tilt rotor aircraft.

Public Transport

Public transport is a widely used term for commercial air transport/commercial operations. Note that this is different than the term public aircraft used in the United States as the rough equivalent of ICAO's State Aircraft.

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