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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

General Aviation verses Airline Flying

Last week I received a great set of questions from a general aviation instructor, Noah. I thought it would be for everyone to hear the differences too. I know that you have more to add, so please do so in the comments.

Noah Rice just before takeoff

Questions and Answers:

I know that the training that I'm doing now will help me when I get to the airlines, I know there will differences but I'm just not sure how big the differences will be.

1. How different is the flight planning process at the majors from the flight training level?

Flight planning at the major airlines:

Answer: Somebody else plans our route. Determines required fuel. Determines alternates. Provides weather and Notams. Creates and files the flight plan. We review the paperwork. We have the ability to request more fuel, but usually that’s not an issue if our dispatcher is doing their job—which they normally are very good.


2. Are there things that I can do now as a student pilot and as a GA pilot that will help me prepare for a career at a major?

Answer: Learn discipline, communication and management skills, and practice living like a Captain. What is a Captain? A leader. Click HERE to read how to be a CAPTAIN.

Over Utah lake downwind to PVU

3. Are there things that you have learned in CRM at the many airlines you’ve worked, that I can apply to my own flying? One thing I do is I confirm everything with my instructor when we're flying such as, runways before we enter them, and takeoff and landing clearances. Last year one of my best friends was up with his instructor and they had an accident, neither of them made it. It really made me be a lot more careful and I really wanted to have more communication myself and my instructor.

Answer: I’ve learned so much at the many airlines I’ve worked. Standard Operating Procedures is the key. Doing the same thing, the same way, and knowing your procedures so well you could do them in your sleep will enable you to shift your attention to an emergency if it should arise. If you have to tax your memory on the normal stuff, when the abnormal stuff happens, you won’t have enough brain cells to deal with the emergency. Know your normals. In addition, when flying with other pilots everyone knows what is expected. When someone deviates, you’ll know, and won’t assume it’s a technique.

Anticipate any contingency that “could” happen will enable you to prepare early. Don’t ever think it couldn’t happen to you, because it could. Be ready.

Plan, review, brief, and prepare for every flight is essential.

Listen and encourage feedback. We all have something important to say, and can learn from everyone.

Treat the plane and your job with respect. Have fun…yes. But you owe the best you can be to your passengers. This means… be healthy, rested, and prepared.

Noah in the CRJ-200 Frasca sim

4. I was out with my friend tonight, who is one of the people who wants to fly with me told me that she's afraid of flying. Would it be better for me to take her up or advise her to fly on a commercial airline before flying with me?

Answer: I would take her up and allow her to fly the plane. Explain what is happening and the basic concepts of flight. She’ll be so focused on what she’s doing, she won’t have time to be scared.

Walking on the Ramp.

5. I've flown many different aircraft, C172,DA-20,DA-40, DA-42 Twinstar ( I train in this), and a Cirrus SR-22. What are the main differences between flying a "Heavy" jet and flying light GA aircraft? I want to think that the fundamental skills still apply like knowing when to flare, recovering from stalls etc... but I just want to know if my thinking is correct.

Answer: I’ve been recently taking an Instrument Flying Ground school and learning the differences all over again. I personally think it’s easier at the airlines. Easy is a relative term. We have a lot more responsibility, but we also have more of a support team.

In the commercial world we are more protected by the “system.” Our focus is more on flying the plane and dealing with emergencies if they should arise. ATC takes really good care of us. We have a team... flight planning, etc.,

Landing at Spanish Fork

The flying is very different from what I remember because we do it more on automation than the GA world. We also do everything IFR. But, with that said, I’ve noticed that the pilots who fly small planes on their days off, have excellent skill flying the big jets. Weight. Lift. Thrust. Drag. All the same in any plane. We have more options to create more drag with speed brakes on the jets. The bigger planes fall out of the sky faster without their engines too. The landing is a bit different, too. (In some planes)

A 747 lands like a big 172. Height of the flare is an issue going back to the little planes. But flare and the process (other than it’s heavier) is very similar. The Airbus A330, however, is different in landing because we don’t really flare, but stop the decent rate. When the mains are on the runway, we fly the nose down to the runway.

One thing that I realized is the shift of power and pitch between jets and general aviation planes. In jets, on final approach, thrust is airspeed. Pitch keeps us on the path. I was told during my instrument class that when I “break out” during my instrument approach, in my general aviation airplane, that I need to switch from this concept I’m used to, and “fly speed with pitch!” Speed with pitch—how can that be? Thrust gives you speed. This is going to take some getting use to.

VSI in small planes lags. Air transport aircraft have IVSI—instantaneous. It’s a great tool.

Mt. Timpanogas

Managing the mass, despite the size, is the key to flying. Knowing your plane is equally essential in all types. General aviation has far more work getting ready for the flight because you do it all yourself. We have a team called dispatch.

Traffic on final. I was number 3 for takeoff. DA-40 on final,

Excellent questions~ I hope that one day I can come fly with you. And please, anyone who has anything to add… we would all love to hear your comments! And thanks for the great photos Noah.

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene


  1. I like this topic. And you have covered a lot in this post.

    One of the main things I will always appreciate with my training at my flight college is the exposure of many different things.
    Being a college that 9 times out of 10 graduates people with the mind of airlines means a lot of training.

    In class we had everything from SMS phases, CRM training, TEM training, Human Factors and a lot of other things that someone from a regular flight school might not get, or at least not too in depth.

    In the airplane we get to practice mostly GA flying, doing our flight planning, VFR then IFR. We learned SOPs from the very beginning, and after getting our PPLs, our solo flights became mutual flights, to allow the experience of having someone completely different but doing the exact same thing as the other person.

    In the simulator, I expanded most of my training to have more real-world real-life scenarios. We had multi crew training of air taxi operations flying a twin in the middle of nowhere, pressured by clients and the company. We had literally taken old SOPs of an airline and applied it to our CRJ200 training, where we get a flight plan and check it over and fly the airplane.

    The only thing that I kinda wanted was more Single Pilot IFR Line oriented flight training. I probably should have done my thesis on that because a lot of us could very well go into something like that.

    As for GA preparing you to the majors. I believe having that mindset of saving your own behind is the same. It allows you to pay into every little detail no matter how comfortable you become with the airplane or operations. Only in the majors, saving your own behind can and usually mean saving hundreds more behinds...behind you ;)


    1. funny how i mention something about paying attention to every little detail yet missing the word "attention" in there...

      and as for sharing my experience...i meant to say that the differences can also mean similarities. other than the very technical aspects of flying large aeroplanes, a lot of airline thinking can be used for GA flying and vice versa!

    2. Ramiel, what an excellent comment. I'm very impressed with the training you're receiving at your flight college. This is exactly what is needed to prepare you for the airlines. I understand now why the FAA and the airlines look so highly at your type of school. They are training you for the real world.
      Not that general aviation can't learn and train with the same mindset, they can. But the value of what you're getting... I know you're very grateful.
      Thanks so much for the comment!

    3. Ramiel, you're so right. There is so much that can be for both. I'm learning that during my instrument training too. Not to worry... we all lose a little attention now and again.


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