|Light-sport flying. Designed to make flying more accessible to would-be pilots, the sport pilot rule has also perplexed many a person.|
The sport pilot rule under which LSA pilots fly was intended to cover a broad array of recreational vehicles and conditions, gently wrapped within a beneficent, safety-minded envelope of permissions and restrictions.
But as with any reg.gov, there are opportunities for confusion. Herewith are 10 frequently asked questions (plus a bonus) that will help you fully understand just what being a sport pilot means.
1) The only medical qualification required for the sport pilot license is a valid, current driver’s license or a third-class FAA medical. Can you fly with a flight medical–disqualifying health issue if it’s not restricted for the driver’s license?
Nothing like starting off with the catch-22 of the sport pilot rule. Imagine two 30-year-old men; both have recently come down with diabetes. The first, a rated private pilot, just failed his flight medical. Because diabetes is incurable, he’ll never again be able to pass an FAA flight medical exam and will, therefore, never qualify for a sport pilot certificate.
The second man has never been rated as a pilot and has never taken a flight medical. Here’s where the catch comes in: Because diabetes is not grounds for disqualification for a driver’s license, he will be able to get a sport pilot license, even though he has the exact same disease as the first pilot.
Many rated pilots, especially those approaching or enjoying their senior years, have wisely let their flight medicals expire before the next exam, to make sure they’re never disqualified. Crafty boomers, they. But someone like our first pilot is flat out of luck. Although he’s just as capable of flying safely as the second pilot, the FAA says he can’t do it legally.
In an FAQ put out by the FAA, the question was dealt with this way: “Consult your private physician to determine whether you have a medical deficiency that would interfere with the safe performance of sport piloting duties. You may exercise sport pilot privileges provided you are in good health, your medical condition is under control, you adhere to your physician’s recommended treatment and you feel satisfied that you are able to conduct safe flight operations.”
Unless, of course, you’ve ever been denied an FAA medical. Yes, it’s a bit of a dodge, but it does make an important point: Even if you’re in generally tip-top shape, it’s always your responsibility to make sure you don’t fly if you’re ever unable to do so safely, no matter what the cause.
But the ruling, in essence unfair and, one could even argue, unconstitutional, discriminates against the first pilot by not affording him the same rights as the second, based solely on a technicality: a flight medical of record that disqualified him for diabetes.
The buzz is that the FAA is working on a solution to this dilemma, but nothing substantive has come through the mill yet. Stay tuned.
2) Can I fly an aircraft that has LSA-legal performance if it has a backseat, even if I take only one passenger along?
Dang, that’s a good question. But no, you can’t. If an airplane has a backseat for carrying passengers, it’s not, in fact, a legal LSA. The rule’s description is explicit: The maximum seating capacity of an LSA is no more than two persons, including the pilot.
3) What about hang gliders or paragliders? Are they now considered LSA?
Nein, mein Schatz, and the phrase we stub our toes on here is “foot-launch.” Powered and unpowered foot-launched hang gliders and paragliders are excluded from the LSA rule, just as, one could argue, insanity should be excluded. Perhaps it is. I shouldn’t talk, I still foot-launch hang gliders at my advanced age.
A trike (i.e., a powered tricycle cage with wheels or floats and an attached hang glider or paraglider) or another similar weight-shift aircraft is considered a legal LSA though.
4) Does a sport pilot need permission to fly into Class B or C airspace?
You betcha, Joe the Pilot. You may fly into radio-controlled airspace only after you’ve received appropriate additional training and your instructor has endorsed your logbook accordingly to do so.
5) Does a sport pilot need a logbook endorsement for each make and model of LSA that he/she wishes to fly?
Nyet, comrade, but you will need endorsements for each make/model set. The five sets are airplane (sea/land subsets), glider, gyroplane (not helicopter), powered parachute and weight shift (sea/land subsets). The FAA created subsets of similar LSA makes and models to ensure adequate pilot skills for each diverse type of aircraft. That means if you get your sport pilot ticket in a Piper Cub, then you can legally fly (after an appropriate checkout flight, of course) any other LSA in the airplane category. But before you can fly an LSA pusher eggbeater in the gyroplane category, you’ll need additional training in type and an instructor’s logbook endorsement.
6) What about passing my checkride in a single-seat LSA? I’ll be legal to fly a passenger then, right?
You are allowed to take your checkride in a single-seat LSA; the examiner observes your flight skills from the ground. But you’ll have a single-seat limitation placed on your certificate. To carry a passenger, you’ll need additional training and another checkride with an examiner in a two-seat LSA.
7) Will I need to demonstrate my skills regularly as traditional pilot’s license holders must do?
Yep, just like the big boys do. Sport pilots must take a biennial flight review (BFR). For those of us shaky on our Latin roots, “biennial” means every two years.
8) What about losing your driver’s license, such as for a DUI or too many moving violations, or even for failing to carry auto insurance? You can still legally fly an LSA, yes?
Interestingly enough, no, you can’t. If you lose your driver’s license for any reason, you can’t fly an LSA—until you correct the problem and get your driver’s license back. Likewise, if your doctor says you can’t operate a motor vehicle (poor eyesight, prescription drugs, etc.), then you can’t fly an LSA. Remember the general rule: You self-state that you’re capable of safe flight at all times.
9) The 10,000-foot-max-altitude rule means above ground, right?
You wish. If this were true, you could legally fly in the Rockies at 24,000 feet, assuming you could climb up there. No, the current rule makes it very clear that 10,000 feet MSL is the absolute ceiling.
But a rule change is in the works for those who wish to fly over higher terrain. The new rule will likely have language such as “up to 10,000 feet MSL or 2,000 feet AGL, whichever is higher.”
10) What about repairing and modifying my LSA? That’s legal just as with experimental aircraft, isn’t it?
Yes and no, it depends on the type of LSA. If you build your own experimental LSA (E-LSA), then you are the de facto A&P and can do repairs and mods.
However, if you buy a prebuilt “special” LSA (S-LSA), then you can only do minimal preventative maintenance. (For a list, see FAR Part 43, Appendix A.) To make your own annual inspection, you must take a 16-hour maintenance course. But the 16-hour course only lets you inspect your airplane for defects. You still can’t do significant maintenance on it.
BONUS QUESTION! What if you have more than enough hours as a student pilot in a standard category aircraft, such as a Cessna 152? Does that time count toward the sport pilot license?
Yes, it does! But can you solo or take your sport pilot checkride in a C-150? No, you can’t. Why not? Because you only can fly solo and pass your checkride in an FAA-designated LSA. You can get all the training you want in any FAA-certified aircraft, but you must fly an LSA to clinch the sport pilot deal.
Let us know if this sport pilot/LSA Q&A session was helpful to you, and we’ll do it again with different questions soon. Fly safe and happy, dear readers!