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.
As the rule progressed, the definition of what constitutes a Light Sport Aircraft changed; happily, the final rule read something like a wish list. The rule defines a light sport aircraft as: – Having a max gross weight of 1,320 pounds, or 1,430 pounds if float equipped – Stalling at a maximum of 45 knots – Having a maximum full power straight and level flight at sea level of no more than 120 knots – Seating a maximum of two – Operating day/VFR only – Having a single, reciprocating engine – Being equipped with a fixed or ground adjustable propeller – Having an unpressurized cabin – Being outfitted with a fixed landing gear (which can be a repositionable gear for amphibians)
The new-manufacture airplanes are the focus of much of the interest in the Light Sport Aircraft rule. While they will be type-certificated, they will be built to certification standards much less stringent than those required under Part 23. The new benchmarks will be based on industry/government consensus, which will greatly ease many of the most difficult aspects of certification, making the process, the FAA hopes, doable for even small companies. Some of these new airplanes might be quite affordable, too. At the low-cost end, Sabre Trikes, an Arizona-based trike maker, says that it plans to sell a certified, light sport aircraft version of its Wildcat two-seat weight-shift trike for less than $20,000 complete and ready to fly.
New Pilots Coming through the Doors
Who will fly these new LSA (or LSA-eligible) airplanes? Once they emerge, sport pilots will be able to, but so will private, commercial, and ATP-rated pilots. And any of those pilots can fly light sport aircraft without a medical so long as they have a valid drivers license. One major advantage of the sport pilot certificate is that pilots can get their ticket in as little as 20 hours, a point that supporters of the rule say will quickly swell the pilot ranks. Once they have their ticket in hand, sport pilots can: – Fly Light Sport Aircraft or Light Sport Aircraft-eligible aircraft – Take a passenger along for the ride – Use the time logged as a sport pilot toward higher ratings – Add on certain privileges, like flying in controlled airspace, including at airports with control towers There are limitations to sport pilot privileges when compared to those of private pilots, but most of them can be removed with additional training. Some will require that the sport pilot upgrade to a private pilot certificate. Some sport pilot restrictions include: – Day/VFR ops only – Operation in Class G and E airspace only – The requirement to get checked out in each new category and make and model of Light Sport Aircraft they fly. Private (or higher-rated) pilots are exempt from this requirement.
Many requirements of other certificates apply to the sport pilot ticket. Pilots need to meet the same age (16 to solo, for example) and language requirements, they need to maintain currency on the same schedule as other pilots, and the light sport aircraft they fly need to be appropriately equipped for the airspace and conditions in which they operate.
For some pilots the best news in the rule was that sport pilots don’t need to have an FAA medical certificate. Instead, sport pilots (and those with a private, commercial, or other certificate) can exercise the privileges of sport pilot with just a driver’s license as proof of medical fitness. Those pilots who have had a medical denied or revoked won’t be eligible for self-certification, as it currently stands, but in time even that restriction could be modified.