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How to Get Involved as a Sport Pilot

The Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category of aviation under Federal Aviation Administration rules and the new pilot rating associated with it are bringing a long awaited new burst of activity to the general aviation community.

The category includes airplanes, gliders, powered parachutes, weight-shift control aircraft (formerly called 'Trikes') and lighter than air aircraft (balloons and airships), and a category known as 'Ultralights.' Active pilots in these categories can transition to the new Sport Pilot license. The focus of interest attracting the most new participants is the airplane group. The less complex craft and simpler pilot qualifications are permitting interested persons to enter aviation at lower costs and to gain benefits of flight more quickly.

Sport planes are limited in weight, may be flown only in day VFR conditions, carry no more than two persons, and not be used for hire. (Night flights may be made if the pilot is qualified with a private or higher certificate and the aircraft meets the requirements of Federal Aviation Regulation 91.205.)

Like anything new, it is taking time to move this along. Obviously, time is needed to certificate instructors across the United States, to approve and certificate the aircraft, and to establish dealerships for the new category of planes. Potential dealers have a vast number of planes from which to choose. More than three dozen companies are producing light sport aircraft and others are entering the market. Many of these are foreign made but have FAA certification. U.S. manufacturers are moving swiftly to catch up. Cessna Aircraft showed its concept model of a LSA at the 2006 EAA Airventure but at this writing no decision had been announced concerning production.

Although it might take some effort to find an instructor, a local airport with available sport plane facilities, and the kind of sport airplane to buy or rent, now could be the best time to get started, according to some experts. This is because this new area of recreational flight is still trying to get established and few elements of it have settled into routine. Take insurance, for instance. Underwriters have no experience with this kind of pilot or aircraft and have no basis on which to establish rates. One insurance executive said the LSA movement is on the leading edge of development and is changing quickly and locking in a policy now might be advantageous.

In flight instruction and testing, instructors haven't had enough experience to know what areas of training to stress nor exactly what FAA examiners will be looking for. The Federal Aviation Administration is still developing the examiner program to provide convenient locations in all parts of the country.

Many models of certificated aircraft fit in the light sport category and might be available immediately at many fixed base operators at airports. The FAA lists 131 models of existing type certificated models that fall into this category. These include: Aeronca Ercoupe, Interstate, Luscombe, Piper, Porterfield, and Taylorcraft. Not all models from these manufacturers are in the LSA category. To find out which ones are, see the further information links below.

Lending institutions and insurance companies are at present treating LSA aircraft much as they do previous standard aircraft. At present, rates are not affected by the facts that pilots fly only in VFR conditions and there are fewer persons exposed in the airplane. Rates are based on pilot experience and value of the airplane. Partnership and club policies can provide one policy to cover several pilots. Specific information about financing individual or group purchase of a LSA or of insurance coverage for owners is readily available from IFA's lending and insurance providers.

Many resources are available to obtain different kinds of information about the Light Sport Aircraft movement. IFA provides links to these for your convenience:

  • Federal  Aviation Administration: Source for much information including aircraft certificated as LSAs. Go to the web site and type Sport Pilot in search. This will bring up numerous items such as test information, including a list of aircraft models. For just certificated aircraft, type in the search field: certificated light sport aircraft.
  • I Fly America: Source for LSA insurance and financing and a growing library of information related to LSAs and the light sport pilot certification.
  • Experimental Aircraft Association: Source for growing list of flight instructors, among other information.
  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association: Here you'll find many items such as safety, complete FAA SLP rule, frequently asked questions, and other LSA items of interest.
  • Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association: Lists members of the association and provides web links to some to obtain product information.
  • Dan Johnson, ultralight and sport plane web site: Information about aircraft, including links to some manufacturers for product information, plus a host of other subjects.

Because the LSA category includes the ultralight, powered parachute and other classes of flight, it is drawing in publications, individuals, and organizations that were active in these segments of flight. Many of these have vast knowledge of recreational flying and can be helpful in advancing this newest and fastest growing part of flight.

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