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8 types of air transport around the world

Aviation is a core component of tourism and there are different types of air transport within the aviation industry. Whilst most of us immediately think of commercial aircraft (the ones that we fly on when we go on holiday), there is actually much more to the air transport industry!

In this article I will tell you a little bit more about the different types of air transport, giving you some helpful examples along the way.

What is air transport?

Before we get started, we must firstly understand what air transport actually is.

Put simply, air transport is any type of transport that moves through the air.

Any vehicle that can sustain flight is part of the air transport industry, and there are various different types.

From short domestic flights to long haul international travel, air transport is a big part of the travel and tourism industry.

Types of air transport

Types of air transport

There are many different types of air transport.

They provide different uses, whether that be for cargo transportation or tourism, and operate in different ways due to how they are built and the ways in which they are made to fly.


jet cloud landing aircraft

Also known as aircraft, airplanes or simply planes, an aeroplane is a powered, fixed-wing aircraft.

Using a jet engine, propellors or a rocket engine, an aeroplane flies through the air and is one of the most popular types of air transport.

Planes come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes with different wing configurations, and are used in many ways.

They are used to transport people and goods, for research, within the military, simply for recreation and more.

Planes are flown by an on-board pilot or a group of pilots, with the help of automated technologies.

The first plane was invented and flown by the Wright brothers in 1903. Aeroplane technology was used in a limited way during World War I, and it continued to develop from then on. It is ever-evolving, and planes make up a huge portion of all types of air transport vehicles.

Current airliners making planes include:

  • Airbus (France/Germany/Spain/United Kingdom)
  • Antonov (Ukraine)
  • ATR Aircraft (France/Italy)
  • Boeing (United States)
  • Bombardier Aerospace (Canada)
  • Comac (China)
  • Embraer (Brazil)
  • Let Kunovice (Czech Republic)
  • Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (Japan)
  • United Aircraft Corporation (Russia)
  • Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (China)


photo of ams helicopter in flight

A helicopter is a rotorcraft – lift and thrust actions are supplied by horizontally spinning rotors which allow the helicopter to take off and land vertically, hover, and fly forward, backward and laterally.

The first operational helicopter was made in 1936.

Helicopters can be used in congested areas where a fixed-wing aircraft (a plane) wouldn’t work so well. Helicopters are used by search and rescue groups as well as law enforcement and news & media companies. This is because they can hover in one area for an extended period of time which is great if you are looking for something in particular or filming. They are also used by firefighters for this reason.

Other helicopter uses include medical transport, tourism and small cargo transportation.

Hot air balloons

four beige hot air balloons flying

Primarily used for tourism, hot air balloons were the first ever successful human-carrying types of air transport.

Back in 1783 in Paris, the first untethered, manned hot air balloon flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes. The hot air balloon they used was created by the Montgolfier brothers.

A hot air balloon is lighter-than-air, and consists of a bag (known as an envelope) containing heated air. A wicked basket or ‘gondola’ is suspended beneath it, which carries both the passengers and the source of heat. This is usually an opened flame made by burning liquid propane. Because the hot air inside the balloon has a lower density than the colder outside air, it becomes buoyant and able to fly.

Modern hot air balloons are now made in a variety of shapes such as rockets, bees and more.


air transport

A blimp is a non-rigid airship. This is a dirigible or barrage balloon with no internal framework or keel.

Blimps rely on the pressure of the lifting gas (helium, usually) inside the envelope as well as the strength of the envelope itself. There is a solid passenger car as well as tail fins. These are the only solid parts of a blimp.

These types of air transport need to be overpressured in order to fly, and they have propellors too. 

Throughout history, blimps were used by the US Navy. Other military forces have used them too, and blimps are often used in advertising as they can ‘float’ above an arena or field to showcase a brand’s logo and draw attention.


air transport

A glider is another form of fixed-wing aircraft. However, its free flight doesn’t rely on an engine – so most do not have one.

Motor gliders do have small engines for extending their flight, but most rely on the dynamic reaction of the air against the lifting surfaces.

There are many different types of gliders. They differ in the construction of their wings, where the pilot sits, the types of controls and their aerodynamic efficiency.

Gliders are primarily used for sports: gliding, paragliding and hang gliding. Though very rudimentary, a paper plane is actually a glider!

Types of airlines

white passenger plane on airport

The vast majority of passenger air travel takes place on aeroplanes, as described above.

Aircraft are purchased by the airline and then configured to suit their business model. Airlines tend to be split into a class model service with one, two, three or four classes on each plane ranging from economy to first or business class.

Generally, air travel starts and ends at a commercial airport involving border control.

Longer flights may involve a layover too.

There are three categories of airline that operate commercial flights around the world. These airlines are low cost, charter and scheduled. I will explain what each of these types of airline means briefly below.

Low cost airlines

Otherwise known as a budget airline, a low cost carrier (LCC) or a no-frills airline, there are plenty of low cost airlines around the world.

Low cost airlines aim to get you from A to B for a low cost with no frills involved.

These airlines tend to come without amenities you may experience on other flights (there are rarely any meals or entertainment included in the fare), and you will often need to pay extra if you want to take luggage with you, or sit with your travel companions.

By adding on a range of additional costs, known as ancillary products and services, low cost airlines are able to provide budget-friendly international flights.

Some examples of low cost airlines around the word include:

  • Ryanair
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Germanwings
  • SunExpress
  • Wizz Air
  • easyJet
  • Spring Airlines
  • Allegiant Air

The term Loe cost airline originated within the airline industry to refer to airlines which have a lower operating cost structure than their competitors.

The term is often applied to any carrier with low ticket prices and limited services regardless of their operating models.

However, low-cost carriers should not be confused with regional airlines that operate short flights without service or cut-price flight prices during seasonal sales.

Charter airlines

Chartering a flight is the business of renting an entire plane, rather than booking an individual seat on a plane.

Charter airlines are also called air taxi or ad-hoc flights, and require certification from that country’s national aviation authority. Regulations are different from typical commercial flights as they offer a non-scheduled service.

The planes offered by charter airlines tend to be smaller vehicles – business jets primarily, of which there are around 15,000 in the world available to be chartered.

It is most popular in the US, but becoming more common in Europe followed by the Middle East, Asia and Central America. Some charter airline companies include:

  • Arab Wings
  • Kabo Air
  • Blue Bird Aviation
  • NetJets
  • Elite Airways
  • Fly2Sky Airlines
  • Condor
  • Smartwings Hungary
  • Buzz
  • Star East Airline
  • Titan Airways

There are plenty more airlines around the world.

Scheduled airlines also offer charter services as well, including Champion Air, Luzair and Rayyan Air.

Tour companies can charter flights too, which is common for package holidays – if you book a cruise with TUI, you’ll fly with them and the other passengers will also be on your cruise as it is part of an overall package deal.

Scheduled airlines

Scheduled airlines operate flights that adhere to a particular schedule drawn up months – or even years – in advance. Even if the flight is not full, it should continue to operate.

Tickets are sold via various sales channels, such as through travel agents, the airline website or ticket offices.

Flights cater to both business and leisure passengers, and these flights are where you will see the class system in place.

Low cost and charter airlines don’t tend to offer much variety in terms of seating, but scheduled airlines will have a variety of options:

  • Economy
  • Premium Economy
  • Business Class
  • First Class

The higher the class, the closer to the front of the aircraft your seat usually is and the more expensive your ticket will be.

You will get different benefits in each class, whether that’s free drinks, toiletries, more comfortable seats, a more private space, refund policies, extra baggage and more. 

There are many different scheduled airlines providing air transport around the world. Some of them are:

  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Gulf Air
  • Pakistan International Airlines
  • KLM
  • Cathay Pacific 
  • Delta
  • Norwegian Air (International, Shuttle, Sweden, UK)
  • Azerbaijan Hava Yollary

Conclusion: The types of air transport

As you can see, there are different types of air transport, which help tp make up the important aviation sector. Some types of air transport are used predominantly for leisure and tourism, and other have practical functions such as transporting cargo or military operations.

Further reading on the types of air transport