What Is the True Meaning of Commercial Flights?

Airlines · 5 min read · Nov 09, 2022
commercial flights meaning

In the aviation industry since the 1920s, the phrase “commercial flights” is used to describe a flight that is carrying paying passengers. This is in contrast to private flights, which are typically only used by a private jet owner or their invited guests. Commercial flights can be operated by major airline carriers, small regional airlines, or even private charter companies in the form of charter flights.

More specifically, commercial flights are defined as a flight operated by an airline that offers scheduled service to the public, usually for a fee. A commercial airline transports people and cargo on a set schedule and often has multiple flights per day between major hubs. Charter flights, on the other hand, are usually not scheduled and are often booked on an as-needed basis.

If you want to learn more about the meaning of a commercial flight and the commercial airline operating it, we invite you to keep reading as we share all the details.

Aircraft stationed an an airport ready for scheduled commercial flights.

Commercial airline

A commercial airline is a company that conducts aircraft operation involving selling tickets for regularly scheduled flights. These flights typically have multiple stops at major airports, and the airline will offer multiple flights per day on the same route. Some examples of commercial air transport organizations include:

  • Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines in the US.
  • Ryanair, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, and Air France-KLM in Europe.
  • IndiGo, Air India, AirAsia India, and Vistara in India.

In addition to transporting passengers, commercial airlines also transport cargo and mail. These companies often have different divisions for each aspect of their operations, such as a cargo division or a charter division that takes charge when they need to operate a charter flight or a private flight. They also conduct a type of commercial operation usually called corporate or business aviation.

Commercial airlines must adhere to strict regulations set by both national and international governing bodies in regards to safety and security. They also must comply with environmental regulations regarding emissions from their aircraft.

The cost of commercial operations for any airline is often high due to the expense of maintaining a fleet of aircraft, employing highly trained pilots and crew members, navigating air traffic control systems, and other factors. However, commercial airlines typically generate revenue through ticket sales, fees for checked bags or additional services, and partnerships with credit card companies or hotels, depending on the airline’s business model.

Checked baggage being loaded into the cargo hold of a commercial flight aircraft.

Charter flights

Charter flights are very common in business aviation. However, they can be the main commercial operation of certain airlines that offer more specific air transport services.

Charter flights are often booked on an as-needed basis and are not part of a regular schedule like commercial ones. They can be used for various purposes, including business trips, private vacations, sports team transportation, or transporting cargo.

One example of a charter flight could be a business trip for a company to transport employees to a conference or meeting in another city. Another example could be a private vacation for a family to travel to their desired destination without having to adhere to the schedule and route of commercial airlines. Charter flights can also be used by sports teams for traveling to away games or special events, and can also transport cargo for companies on an on-demand basis.

Overall, charter flights offer more flexibility and customization than commercial flights in terms of scheduling and routing. They can also provide added privacy and comfort for the passengers. However, they are typically more expensive than commercial flights due to the personalized nature of the service. Moreover, charter flights also tend to have smaller aircraft and may only have one or two pilots on board, compared to commercial ones which typically have multiple crew members and larger planes even for short domestic flights.

A private jet stationed on a tarmac of an airport.

Types of Commercial Flights

There are three main types of commercial flights: scheduled service, unscheduled service, and cargo flights. Now, before we define each type, it is important you understand that no matter the size or scope of the operation, all commercial flights have one thing in common: they are regulated by the government to ensure safety.

For instance, the responsible for regulating commercial flights in the United States is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In the European Union we find the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) while the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is the regulatory body in the field of Civil Aviation in India.

These regulatory agencies set rules and regulations that any commercial airline must follow, from the type of aircraft that can be used to how many hours pilots can fly in a day. Even if the organization only runs a charter flight once in a while.

In order to obtain a license to operate a commercial flight, an airline must first obtain an Air Carrier Certificate from the FAA or the equivalent certification from EASA or the DGCA depending on the region where it conducts aircraft operation. This certificate proves that the airline meets all of the requirements necessary to safely operate a commercial flight. Once an airline has its certificate, it can begin scheduling flights and transporting passengers.

Let’s now see the three types of commercial flights in detail.

People boarding a commercial flight on a sunny morning.

Scheduled Service

These are the flights that you typically think of when you hear the term “commercial flight.” They operate on a set schedule and usually follow the same route each time. Major airlines typically use scheduled service to transport passengers between large cities.

While they are a different type in the list, scheduled service can also refer to cargo or freight flights that operate on a set flight schedule to transport goods between locations. These flights often use larger aircraft, such as wide-body jets or freighters, to transport large quantities of items. We will get into more details down below.

Charter flights, while not operating on a set schedule, can also fall under the category of scheduled service if they are regularly scheduled for a specific customer or route. Scheduled service in general allows for more efficient planning and coordination for both airlines and customers, as well as more reliable and predictable arrival and departure times.

Unscheduled Service

These flights are not tied to a specific schedule like scheduled service flights are. Instead, they are able to take off and land at any time that is convenient for the passengers. This type of commercial flight is typically used by smaller regional airlines or private charter companies. Moreover, airlines offering this type of service can carry passengers, cargo or mail if necessary.

Cargo Flights

As we mentioned, these are commercial flights that transport goods instead of passengers. The vast majority of cargo flights are operated by large airlines since they have the necessary infrastructure (e.g. aircraft with large cargo holds) to handle these types of shipments. Remember, while most cargo commercial operations are run for the convenience of the customers, they can also be scheduled.

Commercial flight carrying cargo.

Final thoughts

Whether you are a passenger on a scheduled flight or a shipper using cargo service, all commercial flights have one thing in common: they are transporting people or goods for a monetary compensation. So next time you board a plane, take a moment to think about all planning and resource allocation that goes into making your flight possible and accessible at a whim.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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