General aviation includes all kinds of unscheduled civil aviation, usually in small aircraft, including helicopters.
These rides are faster than surface transportation, more flexible than commercial airlines, provide an astounding view, and are often the most practical way to reach next-to-impossible destinations. They are costly and have a worse safety record than the airlines. They usually perform abysmally in terms of impact on the environment, but a remote off-the-grid location with little traffic may incur less environmental impact from the occasional bush plane than from construction of a permanent road or rail connection through hundreds of miles of virgin wilderness.
- Business jets provide inter-city travel outside the budget of most private travellers. They may operate out of airports that are owned by or strongly associated with a certain company.
- Bush planes operate in sparsely populated areas such as inland Africa or Australia, northern Canada, the Alaskan bush and much of Central and South America.
- Cargo aircraft with passengers in the cargo hold are used by the military, and for isolated destinations such as Antarctica.
- Helicopters are used to reach destinations without anything similar to a landing strip, such as urban areas, mountains, and small islands.
- Sightseeing planes give visitors a great view from above.
- Private aircraft are small planes owned and operated by individuals. If a Cessna 172 costs US$95–130/hour to rent and fuel, a "$100 hamburger" run is a very short return flight to a nearby airport to grab a quick bite to eat.
- Sport aircraft are used for skydiving and other air sports.
Travelling at the controls of a small plane as a private pilot can be one of the most fulfilling travel experiences possible. You get to see the world from a perspective entirely different from the ground or from commercial aviation. Most parts of the world have some form of general aviation; in Western countries such as the United States and Europe small airports are everywhere. Costs are somewhat higher than commercial airline seats; travel time is less than by car but usually somewhat more than by airline. On the other hand, when the costs of operating a light plane are shared between the pilot and passengers, it can be a surprisingly economical way of getting around. Becoming a pilot can take a significant amount of time and money, but most will agree the rewards are outstanding; for most travel pilots the journey is the reward.
There are operators that organise air-safaris for pilots and passengers, where they join a group of light aircraft on a journey between airports. They offer support services for such trips - and aircraft hire.
A few business travellers fly aboard corporate aircraft, small planes owned by their employers. A helicopter is a necessity for offshore oil platform operators and some mining/resource firms.
A few small communities in remote locations (such as Alaska or the Canadian High Arctic) rely on small aircraft to bring supplies or postal service. Often these are scheduled runs to expensive-to-reach points far from the beaten path, in small aircraft like those used for charter service or general aviation. Some may even be float planes which land at sea or in lakes. The name stems from the "bush" meaning the sparsely populated areas in places like Africa. There are still some communities outside the Arctic best or only reached by air, mostly in Australia and developing countries.
Air charter is the official name for air taxi operations, for which national aviation regulators impose specific regulations for pilot qualifications and experience, safety, and maintenance.
Air charter companies fly point-to-point, at the time requested by hiring customers, so that customers don't need to wait in-line at major hub airports. Air charter companies often fly smaller aircraft with room for typically 3–9 passengers. Aircraft with more than 9 passengers start to fall into the "commuter" size range, subjecting them to extra requirements and costs.