Smaller aircraft: real-life commercial use examples

I started looking at real-life operations to find examples for the commercial use of small aircraft.
Especially in densely populated areas I have a hard time to imagine the transport of goods.

There are remote locations that need supplies, sometimes there are emergencies. There are executives on business travel, sometimes between larger cities, sometimes to a remote location.

I saw a drilling company who operate a Cessna 310R. Do the scan the area? Do they bring engineers close to sites, and avoid hours of travel by car, or train?

In my home area, only few GA can be seen, mostly for sightseeing. Very rare to see geological services, or a banner tow.

What are great examples of actual real-life examples of commercial use of smaller aircraft that you know?

Flight schools, I suppose. Or rental for recreational use.

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Here’s a few that spring to mind…

  1. Urgent transport - transplant organs, urgently needed spare parts
  2. Aerial photography.
  3. Environmental surveys (river levels / agricultural land use / pollution monitoring)
  4. Archaeological survey.
  5. Traffic and other event monitoring for broadcast news
  6. Private flights for leisure / business travel. (air taxi)
  7. Wild life conservation / survey
  8. Film making

Great list! Thank you! Very good suggestions.

Crop spraying?

Many GA pilots have partnered with Animal rescue and adoption services. To get dogs and other animals to their new homes and build some flight hours :wink:

Thomas Middleditch, hilarious comedian and a great actor has his pilots license and a gorgeous Diamond Aircraft. He made a short montage of one of these flights. They even make ear protection for doggos! His channel is also hilarious if you like other gaming.

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  1. Surveying the condition of pipelines and powerlines
  2. Medevac
  3. $100 Pizza deliveries
  4. Police force use


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How could I forget about Dusty?! :smiley:

Interesting! To reduce stress for the animal?

I wasn’t aware that people adopt animals over distances so large that aviation becomes relevant. :flushed:

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Yea I’m sure this is still stressful to the animals, but maybe less so than a 4 hour car ride, when you can fly the route in much less time.
Many pilots partner with these organizations as a mutual benefit. Pilots get to log flight hours on short cross country flights. The organization can reach its goals and make their clientele happy!

The archaeologist O.G.S Crawford flew reconnaissance missions with the RAF during WW1, mapping trenches and so on. After the war he joined the Ordnance Survey, using the skills he gained to map archaeological sites. He eventually founding the academic journal Antiquity, partly so that he had somewhere he could publish his aerial photographs.

Today, archaeologists still approach pilots at airfields and pay their fuel in return for taking them up at favourable times to see if new sites have appeared in the crops. The Welsh government even have their own aerial archaeologist (I applied for the job, you didn’t need a pilot’s licence!).

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Flying Doctor is huge in Australia, as is cattle mustering using GA.

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Good topic but it appears that search and rescue has been forgotten in preference for animal welfare :laughing:

I wouldn’t say it was forgotten in preference to anything… :man_shrugging:t2:

Search and rescue already seems pretty obvious. But the OP asked for commercial applications. I wouldn’t consider search and rescue a “commercial” endeavor. You don’t see people hiring pilots when they lost a loved one. There is Coast Guard, Military, Police and Fire Rescue services that deal with search and rescue. It’s not necessarily a “for hire job.”

Actually sometimes family DO personally pay for search and rescue if the official services have abandoned the search

Anyway - locally the following operations are occasionally conducted in smaller aircraft:

  • aerial spraying and crop dusting
  • tourist flights, especially over the local gorge country that is pretty spectacular
  • transporting fragile time sensitive cargo, for example in the location I live delivering medical marijuana seedlings for the local medical marijuana operation is a common operation
  • hired by local training schools for pilot training
  • our local coroner uses a light twin to get to jobs
  • local fire service sometimes hire aircraft
  • rounding up cattle (typically helicopters but sometimes light aircraft)
  • culling kangaroos, feral pigs and other pests in national parks etc
  • photography, for example farmers wanting a scenic photo of their farm (as opposed to top down aerial photography like MSFS is based on)
  • powerline maintenance
  • sky diving
  • air shows
  • chartered flights, usually a couple of people wanting to go to a location without a commercial service. if you have say 3 people flying and the alternative is commercial flights, overnight stays and then links to bus and train services, sharing the cost of a charter can work out surprisingly economical
  • traffic observation for the local radio station
  • flying dignitaries in for a meeting, rock concert etc etc

Note that ALL of the above require a Commercial Pilot Licence and are illegal on a PPL


I think that depends on location. E.g. here in Germany many accident victims are transported by ADAC (automobile association) helicoptors. It’s not a free service but is usually paid for by the customer’s membership subscription or health, accident and motor insurance, if they are not covered they will get a massive bill. The ADAC also do search and rescue under similar terms so if you ever get lost in the mountains you’d better make sure you are injured :wink: (not really, they will transport you to a hospital anyway)

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So I’m working on my PPL, but worked at a few FBO’s as a fueler. I’ll give you my experience.

So lets start really small Diamond DA 20/Cessna 152
Flight schools/you can do lease backs if you buy one to help cover costs to a flight school.

Slightly bigger
172’s 182 size
Civil Air Patrol (looking for stranded people downed planes)
Pipeline pilots, low and slow to see if there are issues around pipelines/other things
tow pilots, banner towing, also flight schools.

Bigger 206,210, Seneca’s, Barons and such.
Oil field owners, Contruction owners, flying them out to sites that might be remote or out of the state. Lots of them don’t want to fly airlines or dealing with security. Some fly themselves others will hire a pilot to take them around depending on where they are going.

Slightly bigger Cessna 414. Rich doctors that specialize in things, some fly themselves for work to say a remote town that needs a specialized thing so they can come and go as they please.

For most business travel, either they fly themselves or tend to hire Wheelsup aviation. Usually that is King Air’s and private jets.

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Thank you for all the replies! Very interesting!

Can we explore the geographic aspect?

I live in an area with dense population – about 180 people per square mile. I know that’s double the US average. Airliners are almost all we see.

For example, in MSFS I’ve been flying South and East of Houston. There’s Ellington only 10 miles away, as well as numerous small airfields, some with less than 5 miles between them. – It’s no remote area. Many grass strips in the Class B. Who’s mostly flying there?

Which areas do you know the mentioned use cases to be common in? Where would you look if you wanted to roleplay such operations?

For those in the UK with an interest in this, the BBC are re-running The Flying Archaeologist …]


Speaking for the role I mentioned (aerial archaeology) and from a UK perspective, anywhere (almost) in Britain. You can actually do this meaningfully in MSFS, but I regularly use Google Earth IRL as the imagery gets updated frequently.

You’re looking for cropmarks, soilmarks and parchmarks in arable land. These are the buried remains of former buildings, settlement features, ceremonial monuments, field boundaries and so on. They can show up nicely after periods of drought. Certain geologies lend themselves to cropmark formation more readily, e.g. gravel river terraces and certain crops give better results than others, so in the absence of local knowledge, you’d be looking at geology and land use maps beforehand.

Extant features (banks and ditches etc.) in areas of rough pasture are mainly found in the uplands in the UK and the best time to see them is in low winter sun in the shadows they cast, so not easy to recreate in the sim as the DTMs aren’t usually of sufficient resolution.

The nice thing is that if you do spot something, you can check it against online databases to see if it’s already been recorded or if you have a new find. If it hasn’t been noted yet, you can submit it to the local Historic Environment Record, although it would be best to do some initial verification yourself beforehand to make sure you’re not sending them something modern. Years ago, one of my students submitted an assessment of a meticulously transcribed aerial photograph with an interpretation that it must have been Roman based on its morphology. It was actually the faded outline of a former football field.