The future of sport aviation has arrived, but what does it mean to you?
After more than a decade of work on them, the FAA has finally published the Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rules. It's great news for the EAA and other organizations that have championed the new rules. But, what now?
By the FAA's own admission, it will take some time to phase in the new rules. The agency still has to take care of training and certificating the instructors, examiners, mechanics and other personnel necessary for full implementation. The first sport pilots won't appear until sometime next year-they can begin training in January-and the FAA still needs to train and assign its personnel. Moreover, certain details of the Light Sport Aircraft rule will take even longer to implement, as it will take time for would-be light sport aircraft manufacturers to gear up and produce their new airplanes.
Because they're so broad and cover such a wide variety of issues, the new rules are, by necessity, complicated, addressing pilot certification, aircraft certification, instruction, medical certification and maintenance requirements.
Even though full implementation of the rule will take time, many in sport aviation are optimistic that the rules will energize their segment. There are good reasons to believe that this could happen. For starters, the license is much easier to get than the private pilot certificate. And the Sport Pilot rule allows pilots an upgrade path to higher privileges and ratings. While sport pilots are restricted to day/VFR flight, there's no limit on distance for cross-country flight. Other restrictions, such as the prohibition against flying in Class D, C and B airspace, can be removed with additional training and a logbook endorsement. Once they've had that training, sport pilots can fly in controlled airspace, communicating with controllers and taking advantage of ATC services. And it's a relatively easy upgrade from sport pilot to private pilot, where a host of new privileges take effect.
New Airplanes on Short Final
A centerpiece of the rule is the creation of the Light Sport Aircraft category. The category creates a class of airplanes that the soon-to-come sport pilots can fly. It's not only fixed-wing airplanes. Light sport aircraft can be lighter-than-air craft, weight-shift aircraft (like trikes), gyroplanes, and powered parachutes.
The new category, Light Sport Aircraft, is restricted to two kinds of new aircraft. The first, called special light sport aircraft (SLSA), will consist of completely manufactured aircraft. The second, called experimental light sport aircraft (ELSA), will be in kit form, but without the 51 Percent Rule applying. A company, for example, can deliver an ELSA-approved kit that's 99 percent complete.
Special and experimental light sport aircraft will be the only true examples of the category, but many others will qualify to be flown as Light Sport Aircraft, as long as they meet the requirements of the category. These will include: - Preexisting experimental, or so-called "fat," ultralight aircraft. A two-place Quicksilver ultralight-style airplane, for example, could fit the bill. - Previously type certificated airplanes, such as Ercoupes, Aeronca Champs, and Piper J-3s, for instance, that meet the definition of a Light Sport Aircraft.
But it's important to understand that the rules governing these pre-existing airplanes don't change. A type-certificated airplane, for instance, still needs an annual inspection, and an Experimental airplane, regardless of its Light Sport Aircraft status, still can't be flown for hire.