Friday, October 1, 2004
The New Sport-Pilot License Is Here!
Landmark changes from the FAA have just made Flying cheaper and easier
It took more than 2 ½ years to review the more than 4,700 comments on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 2002 proposal to simplify pilot training and make the sport more affordable and accessible. After a tremendous amount of debate, research and consideration (and a certain amount of suspense), the FAA made its announcement on September 1, 2004: The new sport-pilot license became official, and with it came an entirely new category of planes, the light-sport aircraft (LSA).
Traditional kitplane regulations required that the owner and/or builder construct a minimum of 51% of the aircraft, which takes hundreds of hours of labor. The new sport-pilot experimental rules, on the other hand, only call for builders to participate and sign off that they have played a part in making the aircraft airworthy. Builders also need to attend formal training classes to earn repairman’s certificates for minor maintenance, but the whole process is much less time-consuming than in the past.
While enthusiasm within the aviation community for the new sport-pilot license is high, it’s not unanimous. Some wonder if the new license will go the way of the recreational-pilot’s license, which by almost all standards, enjoyed tepid success. By the end of 2003, 14 years after the inception of the recreational pilot’s license, only 310 pilots will have obtained the rating.
The less-enthused response on the new sport-pilot license also can be heard beyond the fixed-wing niche. Roy Beisswenger from Easy Flight Powered Parachutes says, “I’ve seen some mixed emotions in the ultralight community. The sport will grow, and safety may increase, but most people don’t see any benefit. The new level of bureaucracy and an increase in paperwork and standards will probably add to the cost of equipment, maintenance, training and production to the point when some ultralight businesses may not make it.”
Others aren’t so sure that the lack of a medical certificate will have such a huge consequence. “Pilots who lost their medical could’ve been flying ultralights before the sport-pilot license went into effect, so I’m not sure that it’ll have that much of a difference,” says Schlitter.
But by and large, the new sport-pilot rating has gathered more attention and excitement than practically anything else within aviation’s recent memory. A company called Sports Planes (www.sportsplanes.com), headed by Josh Foss, has already set up regional centers all over the country, preparing them for flight training, demo flights, sport-aircraft sales, maintenance and warranty services. “So far, we have 15 centers that are established, and we hope to have another 25 to 30 centers signed up by fall,” says Foss.
Many traditional flight schools and FBOs are gearing up as well. When asked whether or not sport-pilot training would be offered at Sporty’s, President Hal Shevers answers, “Absolutely yes! We’re a flight school, and this is a great opportunity to get more people into flying.”
Perhaps the most telling sign about the new sport-pilot license’s future comes from the organization that has studied it the most—the Federal Aviation Administration. Its recent report, the FAA Aerospace Forecasts Fiscal Years 2004-2015, predicts that there will be nearly 21,000 active LSA that are flying within the next nine years and probably a larger number of sport pilots.
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