When I asked Chris Esposito, instructor and co-owner of FLA, about this, he said the bottom line for most of the company's students is that the SP rating is an easier way to become involved in general aviation.
"I think light-sport aircraft have drawn such a huge range of people more because of the efficiency and technology of the aircraft than the medical requirements," he says. And, he adds, because of their affordability.
Overall cost in time and dollars for the average student to achieve the rating can be half that needed to get the private certification, from flight training to airplane time. First Landings estimates the minimum requirements of flight and ground training needed for the Sport Pilot certificate at $3,000, and the private (which it now offers training for) at $5,300. Realistically, both most likely will take longer than the minimum time and therefore cost quite a bit more, but either way, SP is less expensive and less time-consuming. Esposito says FLA's completion rate for SP is much higher than for private, mostly for these reasons. The end result is that you are flying sooner for less. In my case, although I had to count the 15 hours in the standard-category Cadet as part of my total hours to certification, I considered it like I was starting from scratch in the Remos since the airplane and environment were so different. That means I finished with around 25 hours of Sport Pilot flight training in the Remos (minimum required is 20). The private ticket requires at least 40 hours to be logged. Although many schools don't include the extra fees (I paid $60 for my medical, $150 for the knowledge test fee and $400 for the check ride fee/airplane rental) in their totals for either certificate, they don't change the bottom line in cost comparison of the two.
Must have logged at least 20 hours of flight time, including at least 15 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor, in a single-engine airplane and at least five hours solo in the flight proficiency requirements areas of operation listed in FAR 61.311, which must include at least:
• Two hours of cross-country flight training.
A huge plus for me when I was considering switching schools was moving out of the Part 141 training environment I had chosen (both 141 and 61 are available for the private) into the Part 61 environment of Sport Pilot training. I learned quickly that Part 141 didn't suit my learning style and didn't allow the flexibility I needed. For example, at a Part 141 school, there is a set checklist of tasks that must be accomplished each lesson. Taking a day "off" from that checklist to focus only on landings the entire lesson isn't protocol. That means if you don't finish the checklist for that particular lesson, say in one flight session, you have to do it the next flight lesson and so on, thus running out of time to get a certain task accomplished, such as landings. At a Part 61 school, there is more flexibility in the training. During my Sport Pilot training, there were a couple of lessons during which we spent the entire hour in the pattern practicing touch-and-goes. That translated to 70 landings in 15 hours in the Remos. The condensed frequency and practice gave me the confidence I needed. I soloed shortly thereafter, at 16 hours.
At the End of the Day
To be honest, it had crossed my mind when I was researching local options that going for the SP certificate seemed like a cop-out. But that notion was quickly put to bed once I took the big picture into consideration. Learning to fly has inherent challenges no matter which certificate you choose to pursue or which training environment. It still requires commitment and discipline to achieve the goal. Life's interruptions and Mother Nature's moods still get in the way, making time still a precious commodity. Even with my training only 20 minutes away, I had to deal with personal schedule — and weather-related cancellations. It's worth noting that many of the weather cancellations were due to wind. With a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds, light wing loading and low inertia, no-goes are more likely in a light-sport aircraft, especially in gusting wind conditions.