New Planes New Pilots
After nearly a decade of many birthing pains, the new sport pilot’s license as well as light-sport aircraft category has become a reality. The new 4,700 pages added to the FAA rules and regs went into effect on September 1st of this year, and while no one quite knows what’s next, aviation’s general consensus is positive.
New sport pilots can earn a rating with as little as 20 hours of overall training (and that’s just a minimum), which is intended to make the cost of learning how to fly significantly cheaper. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey noted the cost of attaining a private pilot’s license is approximately $9,000, while a sport pilot’s license is estimated to cost roughly $2,600. Sport pilots do fly with some restrictions: They’ll be limited to day-VFR below 10,000 feet and can only carry one passenger. To fly aircraft with speeds in excess of 87 knots (don’t ask us where that number came from) or to fly in Class B, C or D airspace, additional endorsements from a CFI are required.
The new legislation also creates the new light-sport aircraft (LSA) category, which covers a variety of flying machines, including gliders, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, weight-shift control, airships, balloons and, of course, conventional airplanes. Current LSA-eligible aircraft must not exceed a gross weight of 1,320 pounds (1,430 pounds for floatplanes) and can’t exceed 120 knots. Only a scant few aircraft currently fit the bill—some Aeroncas, Piper Cubs and Taylorcrafts—and you can expect virtually none of them to show up on the flight-line as sport-pilot trainers because of insurance difficulties in using tailwheel aircraft as primary trainers.
The light-sport aircraft requirements also take the role of certification out of the hands of the FAA and put it in the hands of an industry consortium. These relaxed and streamlined standards should allow a wealth of new aircraft to start showing up early in 2005.
“We’ll see incremental growth,” says EAA (www.eaa.org)president Tom Poberezny. “There’s tremendous interest in the kit and homebuilt industry to transition their products to certified LSAs.” The current traditional certified aircraft manufacturers have yet to announce any formal plans to begin building LSAs, but rumors of their interest are widespread.
For pilots of less traditional aircraft, i.e., ultralights, gyrocopters, etc., the new FAA rulings now impose stricter and more uniform training requirements. Also, the alphabet groups of non-FAA acknowledged flight instructors for such aircraft will have to become certified flight instructors. Current CFIs may begin teaching in light-sport aircraft immediately with a minimum of five hours of flight time in the aircraft in which they’ll be teaching.
A key component of the new license was to allow pilots to fly with only a driver’s license in lieu of an FAA medical. The hope was not only to make flight training more easily accessible, but also so that pilots who had lost their medicals could return to flying. The final results were a mixed bag. The new regs do allow sport pilots to fly with only a driver’s license. For pilots who have lost their FAA medicals or had them revoked, however, a driver’s license will not suffice. Ironically, pilots who had lost their medicals could fly ultralights and a potpourri of other aircraft without a medical before the new sport-pilot legislation, but are now effectively grounded without petitioning the FAA to reexamine their case. For more information, log on to the FAA’s Website at www.faa.gov
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