Clarifying FAA?s Confusing Semantics

Each month, Flying answers questions about the new Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft rule with assistance from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the authorities on the opportunities available within the category commonly known as "Sport Pilot":

My understanding of the FAA terms "category" and "class" in the new "class-specific" would suggest that the exams are "category-specific," not "class-specific." Categories include things like airplanes, gliders, helicopters, weight-shift control, powered parachute, etc. Class is a subdivision within a category, such as land, sea, multiengine, etc. I suspect that the FAA does not intend to go to this level of specificity in offering distinct knowledge tests, does it? Could you clarify?

You've come across one of many areas where the FAA introduced unnecessary confusion into the Sport Pilot rules by using nonstandard terminology. For all other levels of pilot certificate, the category is "airplane," "rotorcraft," "glider," etc. Within these categories are classes of aircraft such as "single-engine land," "single-engine sea," "helicopter," "gyroplane," etc. All existing pilots are familiar with this structure. For sport pilot privileges, the FAA decided that "airplane," "powered parachute" and "weight-shift control" would be called classes of aircraft instead of categories. Within these classes there are "sets" of aircraft that break the classes down into broad groupings of aircraft with similar characteristics, such as tricycle gear, tailwheel gear, seaplanes, etc. This is a new way to talk about these aircraft groupings, totally different than what existing pilots are used to.

So, as it applies to sport pilot certificates and the testing for those certificates, the term "class" as it relates to airplane, powered parachute, etc. is correct. For Sport Pilot privileges, there are classes and sets, rather than categories and classes as there are for other pilot certificates.

I have had a single-engine land pilots license for years. I am now 70 years old and prefer to fly for the enjoyment, low and slow, near the home patch with maybe one friend. I recently had my biannual flight review with the endorsement made in my logbook. I have never had my license suspended for any reason, never had a medical problem. As I understand it, I can elect to fly under the Sport Pilot rules with my regular license and biannual sign off without having to have a physical or any other endorsements as long as I have a good automobile license. Is my thinking correct?

You are correct. As your most recent application for an FAA medical certificate was not denied, revoked, suspended or withdrawn by the FAA, and you have a current flight review recorded in your logbook, you are allowed to operate at the Sport Pilot level using your valid U.S. state drivers license in lieu of the FAA medical certificate. Remember that using your drivers license in lieu of the FAA medical certificate restricts you to Sport Pilot privileges and limitations.

For more information on Sport Pilot, go to EAA's Sport Pilot website at sportpilot.org. EAA, which also hosts the annual EAA AirVenture fly-in at Oshkosh, provides in-depth information on the website, as well as a Sport Pilot hotline and complete membership services for all aviation enthusiasts. Call 800/564-6322 for membership information.