Australia's aviation safety regulations are there to help keep you safe every time you fly. However, the rules can be different depending on classification of the activity, an aircraft and its pilot.
The following information will help you understand the differences between operations, what this means, and what the safety rules are that keep you safe.
Commercial versus private flights
When you get into a car with a neighbour or friend there are different rules than if you are getting into a taxi or bus. This is the same for aviation.
When you fly with a friend or family member, you are most likely flying privately.
If you’ve bought a ticket or otherwise paid for the flight, whether it’s for a scenic flight or a scheduled service, you are flying commercially.
Commercial flights include:
- flying with a major airline
- scenic flights
- 'charter' flights (where you hire a plane to fly you somewhere).
Charter flights could be a fly-in/fly-out flight, or a flight put on for an event or reason. It’s much like hiring a bus or limousine to drive your guests somewhere.
Our rules for both private and commercial flying are there to keep you safe – but the standards are different. Airlines and other commercial operators face more stringent requirements than private pilots because their services are offered to the public. However, there are still safety obligations that must be met by both private pilots and commercial operators.
The main differences relate to:
- who is responsible for the overall safety of the operation. A private pilot has sole responsibility, while a commercial operation has requirements for safety management systems, training and checking, drug and alcohol testing and many additional safeguards
- the type of licence and medical certificate a pilot has, including their level of training and how often they need to undergo proficiency checks and tests
- the maintenance requirements for the aircraft and people carrying out maintenance on the aircraft. This includes how frequently an aircraft needs maintenance checks
- the type of equipment that must be fitted to an aircraft
- what type of oversight and surveillance we do on them to check they are safe and legal – private flights are not subject routine audits and checks.
What to expect when flying privately
In the case of a private flight, it is the pilot's responsibility to ensure they have a current and valid licence and that the aircraft they fly is airworthy.
You cannot ‘buy’ a ticket or otherwise pay for a private flight. These are usually flights organised between friends or family and the pilot directly without money being exchanged. Special rules apply where the costs of a private flight are shared.
The pilot must:
- hold and carry with them a current and valid private or recreational pilot’s licence
- have and carry with them a current aviation medical certificate
- be qualified to fly the specific aircraft in particular conditions (we call these ‘endorsements’)
- have had a routine check to keep their skills current (we call this a flight review).
Flying on a private flight is like travelling in a private car or boat. You need to know who’s at the helm or driving the car so you can decide whether you are comfortable travelling with them.
We conduct surveillance on private pilots if it comes to our attention that a pilot is not operating safely or not following the rules. We also conduct ramp checks as part of our general surveillance.
What to expect when flying commercially
Commercial aviation operations in Australia are subject to strict approval requirements and oversight by us.
Any operator who is transporting passengers commercially must hold an approval from us (the Civil Aviation Safety Authority). This is called an air operator’s certificate (AOC).
Operators must meet the safety standards and have the correct licences, trained personnel, and insurance. The operator is responsible for making sure anyone who flies for them, or works on their planes, has the appropriate licences issued by us.
Find out more about the protections and rules helping keep you safe when flying commercially.
Questions you should consider asking before you fly
If you are flying with a friend or family member on a private flight, consider asking them:
- ‘do you have a current and valid pilot licence and aviation medical certificate?’
- ‘have you flown this type of aircraft before?’
- ‘when did you last fly?’
This might help you to decide whether you are comfortable flying with them.
If you have bought a ticket or are otherwise paying to fly commercially, there are other checks you can do.
- Check to see if the company you are flying with holds an air operator’s certificate (AOC).
- If they don’t, you might want to ask them who the registered operator of the aircraft is.
- If unsure, ask them to confirm they are approved by CASA to conduct commercial aviation operations. You can also call us and check on 131 757.
The company who sold you the flight, or who you paid for the flight you are taking may be a different company than the one authorised by CASA. In this case, contact the seller or read their website to find out who the legal operator of the flight you are on is.
If you have concerns about the pilot or operator, we encourage you to report unsafe behaviour to us.
Cost sharing flights
A cost sharing flight is where a private pilot can carry people on a flight in which the direct costs of the flight are shared equally by everyone – including the pilot. The direct costs of the flight include fuel, landing and air navigation fees.
Cost sharing flights may be conducted as private flights, without requiring the operator to hold an AOC. These flights do not meet the same safety standard as commercial flights.
There are special rules in place for cost sharing flights. These include:
- operators can only advertise the flight through dedicated flight-sharing platforms – they must not be advertised to the general public
- the pilot and all passengers must share the direct costs of the flight. The pilot must also contribute an amount at least equal to that paid by each of the passengers. The pilot cannot be remunerated in any other way for conducting the flight
- the aircraft involved must not be configured with more than six seats, including the pilot’s seat.
If you are flying on a cost sharing flight, remember that that this is a private flight without the safety oversight that applies to commercial operations.
Flying in historic or experimental aircraft
You can also fly in historic aircraft as an adventure-style flight. There are different rules in place for these flights and the pilots. It is important you know and understand the rules that are in place for these flights and accept the risks.
Find out more at adventure flight safety explained.