General Aviation Versus Airline Flying

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As mentioned before, is EXPANDING with NEW CONTRIBUTORS! Joining us today is Karlene Petitt, Airbus 330 Pilot and author! You can read her about page by clicking her name in the ABOUT menu on the homepage!

A while back Karlene posted this neat question answer session she had with a young CFI who wanted to know the true, on the ground in the trenches differences between General Aviation vs Airline flying. She gets into some good answers, but more importantly she’s helping to pass the torch to the new pilots of the future. Lets all try to be good stewards of aviation like Karlene!

Now without further rambling – a woman who never is short for words – Contributor: Karlene Petitt

General Aviation Versus 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.


commercial flying


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.


general aviation DA-42


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.

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.

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.

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.,

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.

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

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