Earn A Pilot’s License In Two Weeks?
Light sport aircraft are producing sport pilots in a remarkably short time
A little more than a year ago, the FAA passed legislation creating a new category of airplane, light sport aircraft (LSA), and a new rating, the sport pilot license. The idea was to make flying more accessible (driver’s licenses became the new medicals), easier to complete (minimum flight hours were reduced from 40 for a private pilot to 20 for a sport pilot) and less expensive (LSA are significantly cheaper to own and operate). Despite all the kudos from aviation groups, no one really knew just how successful the new aircraft and license would ultimately be.
Students who believe they’ve run out of options—there’s no nearby school or they can’t (or don’t want to) devote two weeks—are wrong. Individual instructors, such as Robert Parker in Benson, N.C., are listed in EAA’s sport pilot database (see the resources “Where To Find LSA Schools” above). Use the database to look for LSA instructors in your area.
Parker teaches students in his J-3 Cub, and has recently taken delivery of American Legend’s Legend Cub. He fields questions from overzealous students about low prices, few hours and minimum knowledge requirements, but unlike flight schools, Parker doesn’t use those as selling points. “Students are misinformed and think they can learn everything really quickly. In fact, to get a sport pilot certificate, you need 95% of the same knowledge needed to get a private license.” To motivate the younger crowd, Parker hopes to sell his program to high schools, envisioning groundschool as a daytime class offered for credit. And why not? Students can fly at 16 and take along a friend at 17.
FAA records show that 644 LSA written exams were taken last year, with a 96% passing rate. Excluding private pilots who have added a sport pilot rating (those numbers aren’t available), 107 sport pilot certificates had been issued as of December 16, 2005. Although these figures are moving targets, one thing is certain: The trend is on the rise. This is refreshing news; the combined total of all other types of pilots has dropped approximately one percent in the last two years.
From this budding world also comes a new crop of instructors. Sport pilot training is well-suited for private pilots who enjoy teaching but aren’t planning on a commercial flying career. Because requirements are fewer (neither an instrument rating nor a commercial license are necessary) and less costly (only 150 hours of flight time needs to be logged), it’s easier for those who want to teach just because they love to. At Sunrise Aviation, one sport pilot CFI currently in training is a former F-4 Phantom driver; he simply wants to share his passion with others. Instructing sport pilots is a win-win situation—students have stability and instructors have fun.
Whether it takes one week or one month to earn a sport pilot certificate, the common theme is that light sport is revitalizing entry-level aviation. Those who were skittish about working toward a private because of time, finances or health have now found their place in the world of recreational flying. Typical sport pilots just want to get in the air and enjoy flying, and daytime VFR meets those needs. LSA provide privileges earlier in training and, in the end, offer more flexibility. Sport pilot time may later be applied to earn a private-pilot license. (What private-pilot student can take a friend for a ride in the middle of training?) If you aren’t quite sure how far you’ll take it, this is a unique opportunity to taste aviation before swallowing.
As rules evolve and more aircraft are certified, the lines to earn sport pilot tickets will grow. And the names that get added to the FAA’s database of certificates will represent a new audience for general aviation: The pilots that never thought they could. Light sport aviation may still be in its infancy, but it’s gaining momentum fast. Flying for the love of flying is back.