The Main Pillars of Aviation
The aviation industry is vast and contains many moving parts that allow passengers and cargo to travel. The aviation industry is home to hundreds of thousands of careers. From aviation maintenance to air traffic control, there is no limit to the bounds that humans are willing to go to keep the skies safe.
However, there are a few different sectors of aviation, with three being the main pillars that uphold the aviation industry as a whole: commercial, general, and military aviation. It can be confusing at times, as commercial and general aviation tend to overlap.
The breakdown of these sectors of aviation allows close oversight and regulation. The aviation industry’s safety is regulated in the United States by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The commercial aviation sector of aviation involves operating aircraft for hire to transport passengers or multiple loads of cargo. Basically, if there is money involved to fund the flight, it is considered a commercial operation! So, commercial aviation covers airline operations.
Additionally, cargo freight transportation by air is considered commercial aviation.
Different certifications also represent the structure of the airline industry. In the United States and other parts of the world, scheduled airlines are classified based on the amount of revenue generated by operations. These certifications include:
- Major (also called mainline) airlines, such as Delta Air Lines and American Airlines
- National airlines, like Atlas Air and Emery Worldwide (the U.S. does not have a national airline)
- Regional airlines, including Piedmont Airlines and SkyWest Airlines
Commercial aviation is what allows a person to travel on a schedule to visit people in another state or take a vacation! However, if you’re flying personally without hiring pilots or renting an aircraft, it is considered general aviation.
According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), An estimated 65% of general aviation flights are conducted for business and public services that need transportation more flexible than the airlines can offer. Essentially, general aviation aircraft is for personal transport or business transport that does not use an airline.
Examples of general aviation flights include:
- Emergency medical evacuations
- Transporting medical goods or humanitarian aid
- Airborne law enforcement
- Fighting forest fires
- Spraying crops for agriculture purposes
- Business or pleasure flights, for example, a businessman flying his own small airplane to see clients in another city
Note there is some overlap with general aviation and commercial aviation. For example, Business aviation is somewhere between commercial air transport (charter operations/taxi/air ambulance operations) and general aviation (corporate operations).
Military aviation is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling aerial warfare. This includes air cargo that can provide logistical supplies to stationed soldiers.
Some examples of operations that military aviation is used for are:
- Aerial combat
- Cargo transportation
- Reconnaissance missions (intel gathering)
- Training military pilots and other personnel
The divide between military aviation and the other main sectors of aviation is clearer. The only real overlap is military aviation clubs! Basically, if normal civilians are operating the aircraft, it is probably not military aviation!
Outliers, Specialties, and Parallel Industries
Earning your Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) licenses opens the door for many different careers. Plus, A&P mechanics are needed among several industries. Trained technicians are found working skilled positions in various fields, not only aviation!
According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, more than 300 million people a year ride rollercoasters, and that’s just in the United States! Just like airlines, safety is a top priority for theme parks.
Aircraft and theme park rides must be inspected, repaired, and maintained for passengers to ride safely, and at high speeds! Additionally, amusement parks hire graduates with A&P licenses to preserve rollercoasters due to their attention to detail and understanding of safety precautions.
Wind Turbines (Renewable Energy)
In the last decade, the wind industry has invested over $145 billion in the United States, according to statistics by the Wind Solar Alliance. Renewable energy is continuously evolving globally, as well. Wind is now the second fastest-growing source of electricity in the world!
As the demand for more wind-powered electricity grows, so does the need for A&P licensed turbine technicians! A wind turbine technician installs, inspects, maintains, operates, and repairs wind turbines.
While there are plenty more parallel industries, these often serve as a few notable areas that A&P certificates can take you!
Major Sectors of Aviation
It may be a bit confusing at times, but this brief overview is meant to provide you with a look at how aviation is sectioned. When you’re looking to start a career in aviation, it can seem overwhelming at times because the industry is so vast! Luckily, the main sectors of aviation are easy to remember.
- Commercial Aviation – Where flights are scheduled and operated for money or cargo transportation.
- General Aviation – Covers personal or business transport, not through an airline, such as a privately-owned jet.
- Military Aviation – The use of military aircraft or other flying machines for events such as cargo transportation or aerial combat.
The opportunities in the aviation industry are limitless! Not only are there the main sectors of aviation, but there are also parallel industries that you can utilize your A&P certifications in!
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