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Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft Opens Flying to More Persons

Some 20 or so years ago the ultralight movement in aviation was blossoming, attracting increasing numbers of persons and a plethora of vehicles. At the same time, new aircraft in the general aviation fleet were becoming more sophisticated, more expensive, and more demanding of pilot skills. The Federal Aviation Administration decided it was time to put more structure into the regulations, both to stabilize the growing ultralight activity and perhaps open more affordable flight to additional persons. The FAA's Aviation Rule Making Advisory Committee undertook the task of looking at the opportunities.

The committee went to work and came up with a new level of flight between the ultralight sport and the more complex standard general aviation personal and business flying. Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association and a member of the committee, was one who saw the great potential in new regulations that would get more persons into flying. From the beginning, EAA has been a strong supporter of the development of the Sport Pilot licensing and Light Sport Aircraft.

The whole project ground through the federal labyrinth and the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft category was born, becoming effective September 1, 2004 with a series of dates for phasing in different aspects. Simply put, the category enables persons to operate small, simple, low-performance, low-energy aircraft in certain airspace while holding a current driver's license 'or a valid third-class medical certificate. But there are many limitations.

By taking and passing a test, any currently FAA-certificated pilot can exercise privileges of a sport pilot using only a driver's license unless that pilot failed the most recent medical examination or if the certificate has been suspended, revoked, or denied. A certificated pilot operating with only a driver's license is limited to the rules of sport piloting. A sport pilot certificate holder does not need the medical certificate, only a valid driver's license.

To obtain a sport pilot certificate a student needs 20 hours of flight time, including at least 15 hours of flight instruction with an authorized instructor and at least 5 hours of solo time. This must include at least 2 hours cross-country flight training, 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop with each landing involving a traffic pattern at an airport. One solo cross country flight must be at least 75 nautical miles distance, with a full-stop landing at a minimum of two stops, and one segment of the flight must consist of a straight-line distance of at least 25 miles between takeoff and landing locations; and 3 hours of flight training in such areas of operation as preflight preparation, preflight procedures, performance maneuvers, navigation, slow flight, stalls, and other related subjects.

Additional ratings may be secured'after proper instruction and testing'for glider, rotorcraft, gyroplane, lighter-than-air, powered parachute, and weight-shift control aircraft. Certificates may be issued for land or seaplane.

A sport pilot license permits the carrying of one passenger. That passenger may share the expenses but may not pay the pilot for services. The holder of the certificate must pay at least half of the expenses of the trip.

A sport pilot has many restrictions besides the kind and weight of the vehicle. The holder of a sport pilot certificate may not act as pilot in command of a light-sport aircraft:

1. That is carrying a passenger or property for compensation or hire.

2. For compensation or hire.

3. In furtherance of a business.

4. While carrying more than one passenger.

5. At night.

6. In Class A airspace

7. In class B, C. and D. airspace, at an airport located in Class B, C, or D airspace, and to, through, or at an airport having an operational control tower unless the certificate holder has met certain qualifications, among them being additional training in operation of radios, communications, navigation systems, control tower operations, and made at least three takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport with a control tower, plus knowing the applicable rules for Class B, C, and D airspace and air traffic control clearances.

8. Outside the United States unless the holder has prior authorization from the country in which the holder wants to operate.

9. To demonstrate the aircraft in flight to a prospective buyer if the holder is an aircraft salesperson.

10. In a passenger-carrying airlift sponsored by a charitable organization.

11. At an altitude of more than 10,000 feet MSL.

12. When flight and surface visibility is less than 3 statute miles.

13. Without visual reference to the surface.

14. If the aircraft has a VH that exceeds 87 knots calibrated air speed, unless the holder has received additional training.

15 Contrary to any operating limitation placed on the airworthiness certificate of the aircraft being flown.

16 Contrary to any limit or endorsement on the pilot certificate, medical certificate or other limit or endorsement from an authorized instructor.

17. Contrary to any restriction or limitation on the holder's driver's license.

18. While towing any object.

19. As a pilot flight crewmember on any aircraft for which more than one pilot is required.

Sport pilot instructors are available at many locations and additional individuals are obtaining these ratings.

With a sport pilot license, the holder is limited to aircraft that meet the light-sport aircraft criteria. This means the following:

1. A maximum takeoff weight of not more than

(i) 660 pounds for lighter than air aircraft

(ii) 1,320 pounds for aircraft not intended for operation on water, or

(iii) 1.430 pounds for an aircraft intended to operate on water.

2. A maximum airspeed in level flight with maximum continuous power (VH) of not more than 120
knots CAS under standard atmospheric conditions at sea level.

3. A maximum never-exceed speed (VNE) of not more than 120 knots for a glider.

4. A maximum stalling speed or minimum steady flight speed without use of lift-enhancing devices
(VS1) of not more than 45 knots.

5. A maximum seating capacity of no more than two persons, including the pilot.

6. A single, reciprocating engine, if powered.

7. A fixed or ground-adjustable propeller if a powered aircraft other than a powered glide.

8. A fixed of auto-feathering propeller system if a powered glider.

9. A fixed-pitch, semi-rigid, teetering, two-blade rotor system, if a gyroplane.

10. A non-pressurized cabin.

11. Fixed landing gear, except for aircraft intended for use on the water.

12. Fixed or repositionable landing gear, or a hull, for an aircraft intended for operation on water,

13. Fixed or retractable landing gear for a glider.

Model choice expanding

A few aircraft'Piper J-3 Cub, Taylorcraft, Luscomb, and Aeronca, for instance'meet the requirements for sport category and a number of aircraft made specifically for this market are beginning to be available after FAA certification. Many home-built models also meet the sport specifications. The first two aircraft to get certification from the FAA are the Czech-built Evektor Sportstar and the German-made Flight Design CT. These European-made aircraft are first because the FAA Sport-Pilot program is based largely on the European rule for sport aircraft. The Czech plane is a low-wing model with a bubble canopy that covers side-by-side seating, while the German entry into the U.S field is a high-wing model. Others coming soon include Just Aircraft's Highlander, Fantasy Air's Allegro 2000, and a model that looks like an update of the Piper Cub with a wider cabin and repositioned fuel tanks that change the position of the center of gravity permitting the pilot to sit in the front seat. A number of kits are available for the home-builder.

The aircraft have the basic instruments and can be outfitted with additional ones for navigation and communication. Prices of the basic new aircraft are around $60,000 and up, permitting group ownership at relatively minimal costs.

Pilot and aircraft insurance are available from several insurers.

The industry and the pilot community are moving fast, now that the Sport Pilot program is at last a reality. The availability of aircraft less expensive to buy and operate and the ability to get a certificate with only 20 hours of training is opening the pleasures of flight to many persons heretofore left out because of cost and time. Many industry observers believe this new category of flight will reinvigorate the market and attract persons who, once they taste the pleasures of flight, will advance to bigger, more efficient aircraft to carry additional passengers and reach new and farther horizons.